Cooking with Beer 101

by Samantha Suarez | photography by Anna Young

When it comes to cooking: To beer or not to beer? That is the question. When most people think of cooking with beer, what usually comes to mind are things like beer cheese and beer-battered fried food. While those things are delicious in their own right, many people may not know that pretty much any dish that uses wine (or liquid in general, for that matter) can instead be cooked with beer – if you know what you’re doing. That’s what we’re here for.

A DASH, A PINCH and A PINT

Why cook with beer at all, when wine, water or chicken stock work just fine? If you’re already a beer lover anyway, chances are your favorite way to have it is straight up in a big, frosty mug after a long day of work. Beer, however, with all its spices and flavors, can add a rich, earthy element to soups and stews, making them taste like they’ve been simmering for hours. They also work well with dishes like mussels, chili, and yes, even dessert! But we’ll get to that.

With St. Patty’s day right around the corner, why not celebrate not just by getting boozy on some brew, but by cooking with it, as well?

It is actually a common practice in Belgium, where it’s called “Cuisine à la Bière.” Jason and Kris Spaulding, owners of Grand Rapids’ very own Brewery Vivant, gathered the inspiration for their concept and menu from their travels to this region. Over the seven years since they first opened their doors, they became popular in West Michigan, not only for their craft beer but also for their locally-sourced quality food items that go beyond the typical “pub food” most breweries serve. Where else could you get duck confit nachos or roasted bone marrow with your brew, right? Women’s Lifestyle sat down with them and Executive Chef Chris Vander Meer to learn about all the ways they cook with beer.

“When it comes to cooking with beer, hops or no hops matters tremendously.” –Chris Vander Meer, Brewery Vivant Executive Chef

Kris Spaulding, Chris Vander Meer and Jason Spaulding of Brewery Vivant.

HOW TO HAVE YOUR BEER AND EAT IT TOO

If you’ve already encountered a recipe with beer in it, chances are all it said was just that: “add X amount of beer,” without specifics. Grabbing any beer from the fridge will likely not do much for a recipe and will probably leave you disappointed or underwhelmed with the result. With the help of our friends at Brewery Vivant, we’ve prepared a few beginners tips for cooking with beer, so you can have your beer and eat it too!

Tip 1: Different beers, different flavors

Just like with red or white wine, different beers have distinct aromas and flavors. The trick is to choose a beer that compliments the dish. As a general rule, wheat beers, pale ales, and lambics taste best with lighter dishes, like seafood and chicken. Heavier ales, like porters and stouts, work best with rich food, like stews, pork, and beef. “Sour beers are great with fattier foods, whether you’re pairing it with food or cooking with it,” Vander Meer advised. “The acidity cuts through the fat really well.”

Tip 2:  Never cook with a beer you wouldn’t drink

If it doesn’t appeal to you as a beverage, chances are it won’t appeal to you in a recipe.

Tip 3: Watch out for hops

“When it comes to cooking with beer, hops or no hops matters tremendously. You can ruin a batch of food that way,” Vander Meer said. “Heating up a hoppy beer usually just makes it go bitter on you, and there’s no way to bring it back to life after that. You can still use them in recipes – just don’t heat them up.”

Tip 4: Experiment, experiment, experiment

While Brewery Vivant does serve the more traditional beer cheese and beer-battered dishes, they also have several out-of-the-box items on their menu. One worth mentioning is their assortment of beer ice creams. “I love doing dessert and beer. People don’t think about it, and it blows them away,” Spaulding said. “Our beer ice cream is not technically cooking with beer, but we blend it in the ice cream. It’s so much fun. One of our flavors has a stout in there, and it pulls out the chocolate and coffee flavors of the beer.”

Another item worth mentioning is their prosciutto-wrapped cheese wheel, served with marmalade. This marmalade is unique in that its fruit is soaked in beer overnight, giving it an extra pop of flavor. “There are some fundamentals to cooking with beer, but overall I like to wing it,” said Vander Meer. “You have to take risks, play with it, and make mistakes along the way to get something great.” Once you get comfortable cooking with beer, don’t be afraid to start experimenting too!

Tip 5: Always keep an extra beer on hand for drinking

On a side note, if you’ve used a particular beer as an ingredient for a dish you’ve prepared for a dinner party, you may want to serve it for drinking as well. It’ll make for a great conversation starter.


THE UNDERTAKER MUSTARD

Served with Brewery Vivant’s House Sausage Plate, side of sweet potato, apple stoemp and sauteed brassica greens (above).

By Chef Chris Vander Meer, Brewery Vivant
Makes 3 servings

2 cups whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons raw honey
1/4 cup malt vinegar
1/4 cup Brewery Vivant Undertaker beer
1/2 teaspoon Allspice, ground

Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

“Our Undertaker beer is a dark ale with roasted coffee notes, subtle smokiness, and hints of black fruit and chocolate,” said Vander Meer. “We chose this for our house mustard because it’s bold, robust, and can shine through the spicy Dijon and vinegar we add to it. The sausage we serve with it is smoked as well, so this hearty whole grain mustard makes for a perfect pairing! Not to mention the Undertaker drinks well with this dish too.”


Sam was born in Chicago, grew up in the Philippines, attended college in Australia and is now living in Grand Rapids. She loves cheese, video games and music, and will quote a movie or TV show every chance she gets.


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