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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.

TechnicallyNew 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.

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.

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.

Burger Photo Courtesy Zack Bowen / Beer Photo Courtesy Alexis Albert

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