One of the most glaring oversights in the Philly bar scene is the complete neglect of the city’s signature sandwich - the cheesesteak.
There are so many bars with so many great burgers that I can’t even keep up. Far too often though, it’s really tough to get a cheesteak at a bar. I don’t understand why this is the case.
I really hope some enterprising beer bar owner decides to step up and offer Philly’s favorite sandwich paired with the perfect local brew. Until that happens, you’ll just have to do what I do and bring your own beer.
So, if you’re willing to try a little “BYOB” with your cheesesteak – or should that be “BYOCS” with your beer? - the only question left is what beer goes best with a cheesesteak?
In researching this article, I sampled a dozen different brews – and ate a few cheesesteaks - as I sought to answer that question.
Surprisingly, the flavors of a cheesesteak proved to be more complex and subtle than I assumed, and much harder to pair with beer than, say, a burger.
First, I tried the Victory Brewing Company’s Prima Pils, a local favorite and a good example of the pilsner style.
Light without being too delicate,t his pilsner also went down easy, and paired well with the heavy sandwich.
My next beer, the Bear Republic Brewery’s Hop Rod Rye, didn’t fare as well.
This beer has a ton of hop bitterness and not much hop flavor. As a palette cleanser it was perfect, but it overwhelmed the flavors of the cheesesteak. I would recommend having one after your meal rather than with it.
Stone Brewery’s IPA is less bitter than the Bear Republic. The beer smells and tastes strongly of citrusy hops, which lamost overwhelms the cheesesteak.
If you take your steaks with whiz - which is sweeter than deli cheese - this would be a good choice.
I wish I could say the same about Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. After having the previous two beers, I realized this IPA isn’t nearly as hoppy as I thought. It is more of a malty beer, and as I learned the hard way malt sweetness and cheesesteaks are not a good match.
The Flying Fish Exit 4 Trippel has a fruity and bubblegum-like aroma. It’s a bit more bitter than a Belgian tripel, which helped it match well with the steak.
I tried a few other malty beers, like the Schneider Aventinus and Unibroue Trois Pistoles.
Before I started, I thought a strong malt flavor would work well with the steak flavors, but instead it just clashed with the cheese.
I also had the same problem pairing stouts and porters. I think there is a stout out there that would marry well with a cheesesteak, but I haven’t found it yet.
The Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and Duck Rabbit Porter are not only too malty, but the slight sourness in them clashed worse than the hoppy beers.
Next, I moved on to some lighter, drier beers, thinking their crisp finish would be the perfect way to wash down a cheesesteak.
Unfortunately, the spicy flavor and bread-like aroma of the Saison Dupont did not work with the steak at all.
The same can be said of the Green Flash Rayon Vert. I felt that the wild fermentation flavors were not enjoyable with the cheesesteak.
Finally, I came to the oddball: the Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock. If you’ve never tried it, trust me when I say the smokiness comes through in the beer. It was amazing with the sandwich.
The smoked malt perfectly complemented the steak, but it did not mask the flavors of the cheese either. I’d say that if you’re grabbing some cheesesteaks to go and you need something to enjoy with them, then a pilsner like the Victory should be your go-to beer.
When you want to try something different, try a smoked beer., but avoid any beers that are very hoppy or with strong malt or yeast flavors.
Maybe you’ve found some other beers that pair well with a cheesesteak. Feel free to contact me with your favorites. I’d love to learn about any good beers I may have missed.
Tim Patton is a Fishtown resident and the Brewmaster at St. Benjamin Brewing Company, a brewery opening in Kensington this summer. As a skilled brewer, he’s certainly partial to his own brew, but enthusiastic about all that the Philly beer scene has to offer. Got beer or brewing news he should be clued in on? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.