Whether you are from the upper Midwest or not, you’ll likely want to try beer brats if you haven’t yet. These tasty grilled treats are a classic Wisconsin food for summer barbecues, tailgate parties, Oktoberfest, and game day. But with so many beer choices, what is the best beer to cook brats in?
When cooking brats in beer before grilling them, a cheap pale lager or pilsner is the traditional Wisconsin choice that works well. Try experimenting with amber ales, stouts, or porters for additional flavor.
However, avoid hoppy beers such as IPA, as they will make your brats bitter.
Cooking beer brats to perfection is an art that Wisconsinites debate at every opportunity, from the precise meat to put into the brat, the toppings to put with them, or the beer to use for the boiling.
There is even a minority that insists on soaking the brats after grilling. We weigh in on this controversial topic.
What Is The Best Beer To Cook Brats In?
Fresh sausages such as brats are tricky to grill correctly, as their casings can burst before the center is cooked thoroughly, causing their juices to drip into the flames and result in flare-ups and a burnt mess.
Another way that brats can go wrong is if they are not properly cooked through and the center of the sausage remains slightly pink, which is not ideal when eating sausages.
Boiling the brats before grilling them tightens the collagen in the sausages’ casing, which helps to prevent them from bursting and causing flare-ups.
Parboiling in beer before grilling also ensures that they are thoroughly cooked through rather than slightly underdone.
But why beer? Why not water?
The reasons for using beer are partly historical: many Wisconsinites are of German heritage and partly for flavor. But this leads us to question whether it matters which beer we use to parboil our brats. So, what is the best beer for cooking brats?
The answer is more that there is a style to avoid, and beyond that, it is more a question of tradition, price, and taste.
You should experiment to determine which beer you prefer for cooking brats; however, we can give you guidelines.
Why You Should Not Use Hoppy Beers For Beer Brats
When parboiling brats before grilling, do not use hoppy beers such as pale ales or, worse, IPAs (India Pale Ales). The high hops content means that these beers are bitter, and while you may like this style of beer for drinking, it does not work well for cooking.
The hops will go from bitter to more bitter as you heat the beer. This increase in bitterness does not matter with most beers, but with the pronounced base bitterness of hoppy pale ales and IPAs, you will ruin the flavor of your brats.
The Virtues Of Pale Lagers For Beer Brats
The traditional beer choice among Wisconsinites is a pale lager or pilsner, so if you are looking for authenticity, a Milwaukee pilsner like Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller Lite, or Miller High Life will work well.
Standard arguments for using a cheap pale lager include that:
- The flavor of superior beers takes a hit from the boiling process, so reserving them for drinking and cooking with the cheap stuff makes sense.
- The basic beer taste of the beers complements the taste of the brats the best. It does not overshadow them with heavier flavors.
Best Beers to Make Beer Brats
These beers are the traditional choice of Wisconsinites for making beer brats!
- Bud Light
- Miller Light
- Miller High Life
- Coors Original
- Coors Light
- Michelob Ultra
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
If you want to get fancier with your pale lagers, particularly around Oktoberfest time, try a German Helles (pale lager), such as Lowenbrau or Spaten.
These beers lend subtle malt sweetness, spicy hop flavor, and light bitterness.
Why You May Want To Use An Amber Or Dark Beer For Beer Brats
Some people prefer to use heavier or darker beers for beer brats, as these more intensely flavored, malty beers give a more distinctive taste to the beer brats.
Red or amber ales, stouts, and porters have more caramel and a sweeter, maltier flavor profile than pale lager, which complements the salty, fatty brats. A malty beer also cooks down well if you are looking to caramelize the beer.
If you have tried a pale lager and are unimpressed with the flavor, you should try a red or amber ale such as Abita Amber, Fat Tire, or Johnny Blood Red.
But don’t be afraid to experiment with a porter such as Night Rain from O’so Brewing for a real burst of maltiness to your brats.
For added flavor, you could also get fancy and try something German, such as a nice Bavarian Dunkel.
If you are cooking up beer brats in the fall, try an Oktoberfest or Marzen-style beer such as Copper Legend Oktoberfest.
While it is anything but traditional for a beer brat, you could always try a bock beer. The Texans swear by Shiner Bock, which offers much more flavor than a typical cheap pale lager but is still pretty affordable.
If you are in Texas or have a liquor store nearby that offers Shiner, give it a try!
Why You Should Try Craft Beers For Beer Brats
“If you’re someone who enjoys craft beers and dislikes purchasing macro lagers, even for cooking, as you often end up with leftover beer, we suggest you consider experimenting with your preferred craft beers.”
One of them may elevate your beer brats to something extraordinary.
There are far too many craft beers to dive into the topic of which ones to try for beer brats, but we recommend Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing.
This 11 percent ABV bourbon barrel stout is ideal for all cooking and will do the same for your beer brats. If you parboil your brats in this stout, you will add a distinct bourbon flavor and smoothness of taste.
For your beer brats, you cannot go wrong with a cheap macro lager such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, and many Wisconsinites would applaud your choice.
However, it is also worth exploring darker, maltier beers for your brats to add more flavor or even experimenting with craft beer. Just avoid hoppy IPAs!