Expert-Approved Alcoholic Drinks To Pair With Popular Crab Dishes

While the word "lobster" is often used along with champagne and caviar to evoke a luxury lifestyle, crab has more proletarian associations, particularly for anyone who's ever attended a true Maryland-style crab feast at a newspaper-covered picnic table where you whack away at Old Bay-coated blue crabs with a wooden mallet in between swigs of beer. These days, however, crab can be just as pricy as lobster (or even more so, in the case of king crab), so it has earned its entree into the world of fine dining and, as such, may be accompanied by libations other than domestic macrobrews chugged straight from the can.

In search of new ideas for crab-booze pairings, we spoke with Lex Madden, who is the bar manager at Point Easy Denver. Even though Colorado is a landlocked state and the restaurant specializes in what it describes as "seasonal [and] local" food, it nevertheless has several seafood offerings on the menu along with a number of creative craft cocktails and a curated wine list. Madden, of course, has some interesting ideas to share about what she would choose to drink with different crab dishes.

Crab bisque

Crab bisque, like its lobster analog, is a rich, creamy soup made with, well, cream. And also crab, duh. Our crab bisque recipe includes both of these staple ingredients along with chopped vegetables, fish stock, tomato paste, and white wine. Coincidentally (or not), white wine is also what Lex Madden suggests drinking alongside the soup.

While our recipe doesn't say what type of wine to use besides white, generally a dry one works best in a savory soup and also makes an appropriate accompaniment. Madden tells us, "You want something with structure to stand up to the bisque, but also enough acid." She adds that you should look for a wine that has some floral notes, as well. She recommends either chenin blanc or chardonnay, while sauvignon blanc, nebbiolo, and viognier would also be good choices. If you're making the soup yourself, you'll need about a glassful for cooking, which will leave four glasses remaining in the bottle to drink alongside your meal.

Crab legs with butter

One of the simplest ways to eat snow crab legs (or king ones, if you're flush with cash and feeling fancy), is to steam them, although you can also cook them in an Instant Pot if you're an aficionado of that appliance. To accompany the crab legs, you need nothing more than melted butter and lemon juice along with your beverage of choice. Our steamed crab leg recipe calls for dry white wine, so if you're cooking it you can certainly use what's left in the bottle so it won't go to waste. If you're ordering steamed crabs in a restaurant, though, Lex Madden suggests a different beverage pairing.

With crab legs, she feels that beer is your best bet. After all, as she points out, "The butter is the star here, and your hands are gonna be greasy from all that butter and pulling apart the crab legs." For this reason, it's a good idea to skip the fancy stemware and go with something you can drink straight out of the bottle. Madden prefers lower-ABV German or Belgian-style beers, calling these "nice and crisp" and able to complement the crab without clashing with it as a heavier beer might do.

Crab Alfredo pasta

Crab Alfredo is a dish you may be familiar with from dining at a certain well-known seafood chain, and in fact, we have a copycat recipe for this Red Lobster entree. While you may be tempted to accompany this dish with a chain restaurant-style cocktail like the strawberry Lobsterita, Lex Madden feels that white wine would be a better bet.

Once again, she's going with chardonnay, although she feels that rioja would also work. Anything oaky, really, as she tells us, " Oak will help the grain in the pasta come through the dish." If you really don't care for oakiness, though, you could lean more towards something slightly tart like a Riesling — Madden does say, too, "You want some decent acid against all that cream." If you want to be a total rebel and eschew white wine for red, an acidic yet slightly oaky pinot noir could be just what you're looking for.

Maryland crab dip

If you're from Charm City, hon, you know the best drink to go with your cheesy Maryland crab dip is an ice-cold National Bohemian. So beloved is this beer that some Marylanders even want to replace the state song with the old "land of pleasant living" jingle, but unfortunately it may not always be easy to come by in the other 49 states. Luckily, Lex Madden offers an alternative: Her pick would be a dirty martini.

While Madden admits, "The gin flavors aren't going to do you any favors on this one," she feels that the olive will play nicely with the Old Bay seasoning and other flavors. She also thinks a super-cold drink such as a martini is "great for washing all that dairy down." If you're not a fan of spirits-forward cocktails, though, a Tom or vodka Collins could serve the same purpose, as could a glass of plain seltzer with a squeeze of lemon if you're trying to alternate alcoholic drinks with zero-proof ones.

What to avoid when pairing alcohol with crab

While Lex Madden does recommend the fairly bitter martini to pair with creamy crab dip, she doesn't suggest you go to extremes by drinking something like a negroni with any crab dish. After all, as she says, "You want to bring out the sweetness of crab with your pairing, not hide it." For this same reason, she also feels that any beer that's super-high in International Bitterness Units (IBUs) — and yes, many of these are IPAs — would be way too overwhelming for crab, as would a hopped cider. Again, she reiterates, "You don't want the bitter fighting with the sweet."

Conversely, you don't need to pile sweet on sweet, which is why you might not see crab paired with moscato or sugary cocktails such as black Russians. Simple and citrusy are generally best bets, whether you're going boozy or eschewing alcohol — in the latter case, an Arnold Palmer would be delightful. Still, if you want to eat your crab dishes with anything from a shot of straight moonshine to a glass of chocolate milk, the choice is ultimately up to you. Madden herself affirms, "If you enjoy what you're drinking with what you're eating, you've made the right call."