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New England-Style Burgers and Beer

New England-Style Burgers and Beer

This article is a guided tour of the delicious hamburgers and stellar craft beers of New England, featuring pairings that provide a glimpse into the region’s tremendous food and craft beer culture. The burgers and local beers selected to accompany them all highlight unique New England foodways.

Technically, New England includes Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. I grew up in Maine, and I can tell you that state borders don’t define us. A complete definition would include the smell of wood smoke in the morning, apple picking and revolutionary war history. Of course, we’d talk about it all over burgers and beer.

We’ve got hearty appetites here. Perhaps it’s the short winter days or the long, exuberant nights of our brief summer, but few things rally New Englanders to the table like a burger and beer. The uniquely “American” quality of a burger unifies the mixing pot of ethnicities that settled the region. In Rhode Island, Italians. In Maine, French. And in Massachusetts, Irish. The shared rejection of our Puritan heritage helps turbocharge our thirst for beer.

Of course, you don’t have to be a New Englander to appreciate the combination. A food scientist couldn’t have designed a more appropriate pairing. The heat, salt and umami of a hamburger primes the palate for a pint. The carbonation of a beer lifts the saturated fats from the tongue, and the bitter hops provide a natural counterpoint to the savory umami of the burger. In a virtuous cycle, each bite leads to a sip, and each sip leads to a bite.

The following six restaurants all evoke essential qualities of New England. Each serves a burger that echoes these qualities, and each beer pairing is drinkable statement of our culture and cuisine.

nosh kitchen bar burger and fries

Best New England “Excessive” Burger: Nosh Kitchen Bar
551 Congress St., Portland, Maine 04101

New Englanders are hearty eaters. Maybe it’s the long, bitter winter, but Mainers especially have a reputation for self-medicating our collective seasonal affective disorder with gargantuan quantities of rich food.

The Place: Tune into our hearty eating habits at Nosh, a temple of regional excess. If it's on the menu, it's either fried or covered in bacon. The fries include “bacon dust,” because of course. The long, modern room is filled with raucous conversation, fueled by bacon, beer and a human warmth – the ultimate denial of the long winter. Nosh Kitchen Bar is one of the best “hearty” (a word that doesn’t even come close) burger experiences in New England.

nosh kitchen bar interior bar

The Burger: The Apocalypse Now burger ($22) is based on a patty of the “NOSH Burger Blend,” which includes ground beef chuck, beef brisket, pork shoulder, bacon, fresh garlic and rosemary. This already substantial burger is layered with American cheese, crispy pork belly, smoked bacon, foie gras, mayo, and cherry jam, all barely supported by a grilled brioche bun. A complimentary angioplasty is NOT included.

The Style: To match the Apocalypse Now burger, I’ve selected hop-forward lagers. A clean, light style is just the thing to cleanse your palate from the all-out assault of this burger. The added hop kick cuts the grease.

The Pairings:

Bunker Brewing Co. Machine Czech-Style Pilz (5.2% ABV): This clean, briskly carbonated nearly-Pilz is just the ticket to clean the layer of foie gras from your palate. On the hoppy side of traditional, it has more than enough character to charm, but a light enough body to leave room for this titanic burger.

Peak Organic Happy Hour (4.7% ABV): After this burger, you'll want something healthy. Peak's hoppy interpretation of a Pilsner includes organic grains and (where possible) local hops, and boasts a clean, snappy bite.

Banded Horn Luminaire Lager (6.3% ABV): This is a lager with an identity issue; the Luminaire thinks it’s an IPA. Though the vivid hops maintain this façade, the smooth drinkability reveals the soul of a lager.

banded horn brewing luminaire lager can

Burger Photo Courtesy Zack Bowen / Beer Photo Courtesy Alexis Albert

little tap house burger and fries with glass of beer

Best New England Neighborhood Burger: Little Tap House
106 High St., Portland, Maine 04101

New England is all about neighborhoods. Sure, we have cities – but even those break down into the indivisible unit of our identity, and center of our loyalty: the neighborhood. Here in Maine, each ’hood has its own central gathering place, special dishes and, often, brewery. The Little Tap House is a central gathering place of my neighborhood.

The Place: The Little Tap House fuses city class and neighborhood charm. The dim lighting, and the amuse bouche before your entree speak of refinement, but the BYOB “bring your own baby” happy hour reveals a cozy neighborhood spot under a polished exterior. Little Tap House is one of the best neighborhood burger experiences in New England.

little tap house exterior with outdoor tables

The Burger: The Tap House Burger ($15) embodies both the upscale and down-home qualities that make the Tap House unique. Based on a Botto’s Bakery Bun, this humble burger starts with a house-ground patty, topped with Pineland Farms Cheddar Cheese and a Morse’s Sour Pickle. Rather than ketchup, it is gussied up with a savory tomato tapenade.

The Style: For the Tap House Burger, I’ve selected our ultimate neighborhood beer: New England IPA. Two of these are brewed less than a mile away. The hazy hop flavor of a New England IPA enlivens the humble simplicity of this burger, while the citrus/pine aromatics offset the tapenade.

The Pairings:

Maine Beer Company Lunch (7.0% ABV): Lunch packs a heftier hop bite than many New England IPAs, but it also boasts a correspondingly vibrant hop aroma.

Foundation Brewing Epiphany (8.0% ABV): The opulent riot of tangerine, skunk and pine aromatics are an epiphany indeed. The silky body and insane drinkability of this “Maine Style” IPA paired with the Tap House Burger is nothing short of a revelation.

Bissell Bros The Substance Ale (6.6% ABV): The Substance is murky with suspended hop solids. The aroma blends citrus and herbs, and the flavor is remarkably complex and sweet.

bissell bros. brewing co. The Substance Ale

Little Tap House Burger and Place Photos Courtesy Cyle & Liz Davenport / Beer Photo Courtesy Bissell Bros. Brewing Co.

worthy burger

Best New England “Local Food Revolution” Burger: Worthy Burger
56 Rainbow St. (in the Old Freight House), South Royalton, Vermont 05068

Since we dumped the king’s tea in Boston Harbor, New Englanders have been proudly self-sufficient, reveling in the glory of local food and drink. While the “local food revolution” sweeps major urban centers and other parts of the U.S., many of Vermont's rural hamlets never deviated from their diet of local cheese, meats and craft beers.

The Place: Redolent of wood smoke, hops and roasting meat, the atmosphere of the Worthy Burger is an appetizer in itself. The long, narrow room has a squeaky floor and top-heavy tables, while a cheery fire blazes in the woodstove. This unpretentious, utilitarian environment looks humble, but to proponents of local eating, it's a shining beacon of the virtues of hyperlocal, hyper-fresh food and drink.

selection of burgers from worthy burger ready to be served

The Burger: The Worthy Burger features a 6-ounce patty of grass-fed beef (from either Broad Acres Farm in Vershire or Almanack Farm in Chelsea), cooked over a Vermont hardwood fire. It’s served on a bun co-developed with King Arthur Flour, topped with lettuce, red onion and Shelburne Farms 2-Year Aged Cheddar, and drizzled with a proprietary secret sauce (I am assured that the sauce is indeed local).

The Style: Aromatic IPAs are the star of Vermont’s beer scene, so that’s what I’ve selected to pair with Vermont’s ultimate local burger. Vermont IPAs emphasize the floral, juicy qualities of generous late hop additions, without the brash bitterness associated with IPAs. These flagrantly aromatic beers are just the thing to stand up to the sharpness of the 2-year-old cheddar in the Worthy Burger, and represent the idiosyncratic, independent spirit of Vermont.

The Pairings:

Lawson’s Finest Liquid Sip of Sunshine (8.0% ABV): Though it lacks the visible haze of other Vermont IPAs, the Sip doesn’t lack for aroma. Piquant pine, sweet citrus and caramel combine with a faint funk for an unsurpassed olfactory experience.

14th Star Brewing Co. Tribute IPA (8.4% ABV): Where other Vermont IPAs are gentle, the Tribute is sharp-elbowed, with massive, resinous pine and cedar, a refined, powerful bitterness and plenty of grapefruit.

River Roost Brewery Martian Moon House (8.0% ABV): Turbid with hop residue, Martian Moon House boasts potent notes of tropical fruit, pine and citrus. Pretty otherworldly for something so local.

river roost brewery martian moon house glass

Burger Photo Courtesy Eric Hodet / Place Photo Courtesy Ansel Dickey, Vermont Social / Beer Photo Courtesy Mark Babson, River Roost Brewery

boston burger co. the green monstah burger

Best Reference to Boston Sports Burger: Boston Burger Company
Locations throughout the Greater Boston Area

Boston sports permeate New England culture to such an extent that it’s impossible to separate the two without losing an essential part of what it means to be a New Englander. Without Boston sports, you might as well be in Quebec. Central to Boston sports culture are the Red Sox. Fenway Park, their home stadium, is widely known for the massive wall in left field nicknamed “the Green Monster.”

The Place: Bostonians don’t mess around, and the Boston Burger Company’s no-nonsense aesthetic reflects a straightforward dedication to burgers: sports on the TV, T (subway) memorabilia, beer and nothing else to get in the way of burger consumption. In an admirable display of single-mindedness, the menu lists nearly 30 burgers. Leave your pronunciation of the letter “r” at the dooh, and get a wicked good burgah, bub!

boston burger co. bar

The Burger: The Green Monstah ($15) includes an 8-ounce Schweid & Sons certified Angus beef patty atop a Piantedosi roll. This burger is anointed with cheddar jack cheese, homemade pico de gallo and homemade guacamole.

The Style: I’ve selected Pale Ales as the ideal accompaniments for this burger. While Imperial IPAs might be more in keeping with the Boston attitude, the more modest levels of hops and corresponding bitterness are ideally suited to echo the fresh pico de gallo while still standing up to the rich guacamole and tangy cheese.

The Pairings:

Ipswich Ale Brewery Keep It Local BBC House Brew (4.6% ABV): Though it appears to be a simple Pale Ale, generous doses of Mandarina, Citra and Lemon Drop hops set it apart. This beer is only available at BBC locations.

Trillium Brewing Galaxy Dry Hopped Fort Point Pale Ale (6.6 % ABV): With a hazy yellow pour, this beer looks more like Hefeweizen than a pale! The Galaxy hops add mysterious notes of blueberry, asphalt and tropical fruits.

Tree House Brewing LIGHTS ON American Pale Ale (5.3% ABV): LIGHTS ON has so much citrus in the aroma that it could easily be a breakfast beverage. The fizzy, silky body adds to the impression that this beer is actually freshly squeezed juice – a refreshing choice to wash down the Green Monstah.

tree house brewing co. lights on pale ale

Boston Burger Co Burger and Place Photo Courtesy Christina Orso / Beer Photo Courtesy Nate Lanier

match burger lobster indulgence burger

Best New England Seafood Burger: Match Burger Lobster
580 Riverside Ave., Westport, Connecticut 06880

From “Moby Dick” to “The Perfect Storm,” seafood has always been intertwined with the New England way of life. Lobster, the epitome of the New England seafood experience today, has come a long way. In 1700s coastal New England, lobster was regarded as unfit for human consumption and regulations were drafted that prevented feeding it to prisoners.

The Place: The buoys on the wall and the salt air are a nod to the basic seafood shanties that inspired Match. The menu echoes humble origins as well, with nostalgic classics like “a Bag of Steamers” ($12) or the simple “Onion Rings” ($3). But luxury and modernity lurk just under the surface. The gleaming tap handles, the impressive wine list and the polished courtesy of the staff are hints of this hidden indulgence.

match burger lobster interior

The Burger: The Indulgence Burger ($59, Match requests a call the day prior to prepare) is a holy fusion of the finest ingredients the ocean and the earth have to offer. Beginning with a brioche bun and 7 ounces of fresh ground Fleisher’s beef, the Indulgence is dosed with black truffle aioli. As if the truffles weren’t enough, a 4-ounce Maine lobster, seared foie gras, sweet & sour onions and fresh truffles round out the experience. 

The Style: Wheat beer is a perfect pairing for the opulent Indulgence. The sweetness of the wheat echoes the delicately sweet lobster, while the clove aromas synergize with the pungent funk of the truffle and cut through the richness of the foie gras.

The Pairings:

Two Roads Brewing No Limits Hefeweizen (5.0% ABV): No Limits is so intensified, it would make a German blush. Sticky banana and citrus flavors hover over the cloudy potion, packed with clove elements and noble hops.

New England Brewing Company Weiss Trash Culture (3.4%): For such a low ABV, this weiss packs a punch of flavor. The tartness of the lactic acid is just the thing to cut through the Indulgence’s layers of richness.

Black Hog Brewing S.W.A.G Summer Wheat Ale (4.7% ABV): Unlike many wheat beers, a mix of sage, grapefruit and herbs dominates the nose of the S.W.A.G., which also has a strong, biscuit-like malt character in addition to the unique flavors of wheat malt.

black hog brewing s.w.a.g. summer wheat ale

Match Burger and Place Photos Courtesy Thomas McGovern / Beer Photo Courtesy Max Toth

berda's restaurant breakfast all day burger

Best New England Maple Syrup Burger: Berda's Restaurant
21 Essex Way, Essex, Vermont 05452

In March, New England nights are cold, but the days show promise. In these days before spring, we observe Maple Sugar Season, when maple trees are tapped and their sap is boiled down to the golden elixir. The smell of maple syrup and wood smoke on a cold morning makes our hearts leap at the prospect of a good breakfast and warmer weather to come.

The Place: Berda's Restaurant is a simple environment, with the drop ceilings, clean counters and uncluttered setup you’ll see in homey breakfast joints throughout Vermont. But, as soon as you order, you’ll realize that Berda’s transcends standard local diner fare, featuring burgers stacked with handcrafted flourishes, tap lines pouring awesome local beers, and a burger that is part of your complete breakfast.

berda's restaurant sign and exterior

The Burger: The Breakfast All Day Burger includes all the foundational elements of a Vermont breakfast: maple syrup and bacon! The burger is based on patty of 90/10 burger mix from Westerover Farms. The patty is topped with smoked, maple-cured bacon from Sugar Mountain Farms, then glazed with a dusting of pure maple sugar. Of course, it wouldn’t be a complete breakfast without a fried egg!

The Style: With coffee and cocoa aromas, and enough alcohol to get your motor started on the coldest Vermont morning, Imperial Stout is the appropriate culinary and spiritual pairing for the Breakfast All Day burger.

The Pairings:

Long Trail Unearthed Stout (7.9% ABV): With an aroma that blends oak, cocoa and coffee, the Unearthed could serve as a reasonable espresso substitute.

Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout (10% ABV): With the amount of alcohol in the aroma, this RIS would raise eyebrows in the morning. But the caramelized, cold-pressed coffee flavors, and woody aftertaste make this a perfectly appropriate a.m. beer.

Lawson’s Finest Liquids Fayston Maple Imperial Stout: With almost two gallons of Vermont maple syrup per barrel, this MIS has a gargantuan presence: sweet, thick and syrupy. The maple flavor is alive in the aftertaste, and a perfect accompaniment to bacon!

Lawson’s Finest Liquids Fayston Maple Imperial Stout bottle and glass

Berda Burger Photo Courtesy Cory Charles / Header Photo Courtesy Cyle & Liz Davenport