The Beer Lover’s Table: Spicy Cheeseburgers and Wild Beer Co Epic Saison

It’s barbecue season, baby – and if you know what’s what, you’ll be making burgers faster than you can slam them into your face. It’s what summer’s all about.

A well-executed burger needs to achieve a few things. It needs juiciness, with a tender, pink middle. It needs a bun that doesn’t disintegrate in the wake of that juiciness. It needs ooze – cheese and, in this case, caramelised onions. It needs a bit of greenery and freshness.

But most importantly, it needs balance: of salt, of umami, of sweetness, of acid. Cheese addresses the first concern, beef the second; caramelised onions are beautifully sweet, and as for the acid? Skip the pickles and reach for the hot sauce.

In this case, I’ve opted for not one, but two different forms of chilli (this is a Hop Burns and Black column, after all). The first is sambal oelek: a chunky, Southeast Asian-hailing garlic and chilli sauce. It’s complex, tangy, and has a whiff of the fermented about it, thanks to the prawn paste that usually features. The second chilli sauce is trusty old Sriracha, which hasn’t let me down yet. Together, they add vinegar and heat, acid and funk – and play a big role in making this burger utterly moreish.

Many people would instinctively reach towards a pale ale or IPA when serving cheeseburgers, and they’re not wrong: hops are as effective at cutting through fat as pickles and onions are. But in this case, we’re making spicy burgers – and unless you’re one of those die-hard chilli heads who wants to up the ante, stay away from hops, which tend to emphasise heat.

Instead, reach for the saison – Wild Beer Co’s Epic Saison, to be specific. This is one of the most food-friendly beers I’ve yet encountered: dry, effervescent, with the tiniest hint of tang, it’s a golden-hued, refreshing, yeasty wonder. Sorachi Ace hops are distinct – and do their work to temper greasy food – without hijacking the thing. And at 5%, it can stand up to a burger but is still rather sessionable; an important consideration in high barbecue season. Now: don’t you have some burgers to go make?

Spicy Cheeseburgers
Serves 4

For the beer-braised onions:
2 red onions, finely sliced
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
Sea salt
½ tsp sugar
Wild Beer Co. Epic Saison

For the burgers:
500g 15% beef mince
1 ½ tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
4 thick slices taleggio, rind removed
4 sesame-seed brioche buns
Sambal oelek, to taste
Sriracha, to taste

First, crack on with the beer-braised onions: these need about half an hour to caramelise, so you’ll want to get that out of the way first. In a small skillet, melt the butter along with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sprinkle over the sea salt, which will help them caramelise faster.

The trick to making caramelised onions – aside from patience – is to cook them over low heat, stirring frequently. You don’t want the onions to brown quickly from the hot pan; rather, you want the browning to come from the very slow caramelisation of natural sugars within the onions. Cook for close to half an hour, or until the onions have changed colour and have a sticky, jam-like consistency. Then, pour over a splash of beer – enough to moisten the onions and have them floating in a bit of liquid – and cook, stirring frequently, over high heat until the liquid has been mostly evaporated. The onions should look almost stewed. Add sugar to balance out any residual bitterness, remove from the heat, and set aside.

In a large bowl, add the beef, mustard, salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander. With your hands, mix until all ingredients are well incorporated (the mixture should be fragrant with Dijon). Separate and gently flatten into four patties. Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat until hot and add the patties. For medium-rare, cook for two to two-and- a-half minutes per side; after the first side has cooked and you’ve flipped the burgers, top with taleggio while in the skillet so the cheese gets good and melty.

While the burgers are cooking, slice and toast your brioche buns, cut sides down, in a dry skillet until lightly browned.

To assemble, add a good layer of rocket to the bottom half of your bun. Top with the cheese-covered burger patty. On top of the cheese, add a generous layer of the caramelised onions before finishing off with both chilli sauces, until it’s spiced to your preference. Demolish.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen. And why not grab Wild Beer Co Epic Saison at our online shop?