Amber ale French onion soup dip
All photos by Lori Rice
Whether it’s a classic English-style brown ale from Newburgh Brewing Company or an adventurous farmhouse ale made with locally grown hops from Arrowood Farms, craft beers offer such deep flavor profiles that the potential for enjoyment goes far beyond the glass.
The citrus notes and pleasant bitterness offered by hops; the malty, caramel nuttiness from grain; and contributions from other ingredients that range from fresh fruits to chilies provide a nearly endless platform of tastes to impart upon your favorite recipes.
Craft Beer Recipe: Blonde Ale Honey Mustard Wings
While beer styles have similarities, the interpretation of that style and how that plays out in the final brew can vary from brewer to brewer. Taste the beer first and determine what the flavors suggest. Maybe it’s a blonde ale with hints of honey that get you thinking about a beer-based honey mustard, perfect for glazing hot wings. Perhaps it’s the citrus notes of a witbier that remind you of a dressing to toss with a cold grain salad.
Once you have a few favorite styles picked out, keep three things in mind: alcohol content, season, and bitterness. High-alcohol beers, such as those that have been barrel-aged, are best used a tablespoon or two at a time for flavor. A high alcohol percentage can impact the sharpness of beer flavor and risk overpowering the final dish. When using beer for a soup, stew base, dressing, and sauce, alcohol content below nine percent tends to be a better choice. Not all beers are available year-round, but seasonal beers often work well in seasonal dishes. For example, a maibock complements light, earthy mushrooms and goat cheese as the days warm in spring, while a porter or märzen adds a pleasant touch to heartier wild rice and nutty dishes in fall and winter.
Grilled romaine salad with pale ale parmesan dressing
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The biggest mistake people make when cooking with beer concerns bitterness. IPAs, for example, would not be good in slow-cooked soups and stews, as long cooking times and high heat can intensify their bitterness, sometimes making foods unpalatable. Less hoppy pale ales, lagers, brown ales, amber ales, and wheat beers are a much better choice. IPAs, on the other hand, are delicious whisked into dressings and finishing sauces.
That being said, don’t be afraid to break these beer and cooking rules. Bitterness isn’t always a bad thing when it’s well balanced with other flavors. A hoppy IPA can make an outstanding beer cheese sauce or cheese soup. With a little experimenting and tasting along the way, you might come up with your own unexpected killer combination.
Lori Rice is a photographer, writer, and nutritional scientist based in California’s Central Valley. To learn more about cooking with brews and for great recipes like the one on the next page, check out her cookbook Food on Tap: Cooking with Craft Beer, available on Amazon.