IF YOU LOVE beer, chances are you’re drinking it (as you should), but before you quaff that bottle, consider adding a splash to your food. After all, wine and spirits are renowned for adding depth and oomph to your favorite recipes — so why shouldn’t it be the same for beer? “Beer works with everything,” says chef Michael Bilger, co-owner of Sessions
Restaurant in the Presidio. “And there are no rules.”
With that gloves-off endorsement, along with the explosion of craft beers and
home brewing, you have an inspiring recipe for creative cooking, enhanced by a
range of brews touting flavor notes running the gamut from earthy, chocolate and
toffee to citrus, biscuit and rose. It would be remiss to not add a fortified flavor-
laden glug to your dinner.
So where to begin? Ale or lager? How about those bitter IPAs? And what the heck
is a lambic? With award-winning breweries at our doorstep, the possibilities for
embellishing meals seem boundless and maybe a bit overwhelming at first. So we’ve
asked a few local brewers and restaurants for tips and recipes using beer, with a rec-
ommended pairing. Their enthusiasm for this culinary trend is apparent. As Bilger
attests, “ When your belly is full and you’ve defeated your hearty (beer-enhanced)
meal, you can celebrate your victory by crushing the beer can in your fist.”
You can’t do that with a wine bottle.
THINK BEFORE YOU POUR
Before you dump a bottle of beer into your chili-to-feed-a-crowd, taste. Beers have
distinctive flavors, aroma and body, and what you pour in will impact the flavor of
the dish. Beer consists of three basic components, which add flavor to food. Hops
injects bitterness, malted grain lends sweetness and the fermentation process provides yeasty notes. The type of beer you choose will determine the balance of these
flavors. And remember: if you wouldn’t want to drink it, then don’t cook with it.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
As a starting point, choose a light pale ale that has a balance of hops and fruit. “Lighter,
less hoppy beers are not too bitter and generally work with most dishes,” says Marin
Brewing Company executive chef Mario Gongora. “If I want a darker beer, to go with
meat, I use a porter, which is strong and smooth.” Another way to approach mixing
beer and food is the same way you might approach wine: combine heavier and meaty
beef, pork and game dishes with dark ales, porters and stouts. Combine lighter dishes,
such as seafood, chicken and salads, with a light ale or wheat beer.
•LAGERS are fermented slowly at cool temperatures, which
inhibits the production of esters, the fruity aromas present
in ales, and allows the hops flavor to be more present. Lagers
are highly carbonated, lighter in body and crisp, which makes
them an ideal alternative to seltzer in batters for deep-frying
or for yeast in breads.
• ALES are fermented quickly at warmer temperatures,
which produces the flowery, fruity-inducing esters. While
ales are more bitter than lagers, their bitterness is balanced
by malt, resulting in sweet, full-bodied brews. Try steaming
sweet mussels in ale or pour ale into hearty soups or meaty
stews as a substitute for stock or red wine.
• INDIA PALE ALES (IPAs) are famously bitter, characterized
by an abundance of hops. It bears mentioning that while IPAs
are great for drinking and pair well with spicy foods, such as
curries, they are usually too bitter for cooking.
• STOUTS AND PORTERS are made from heavily roasted
barley and malt grains, yielding rich chocolate, coffee and
malt flavors and aroma. These dark beers are a hearty addition to stews and sauces, where they can stand shoulder to
shoulder with other assertive flavors. They work well in chilis,
marinades, and barbecue sauces, and believe it or not, they
are excellent additions to rich desserts that complement their
chocolate, spice and sweet notes.
• LAMBICS AND SOURS are funky beers, with dry, winey and
sour flavors. Unlike other beers, which are fermented with specific yeast strains, lambics are fermented with wild yeast. Fruit,
such as raspberries, cherries and peaches, is often added to the
fermenting process. Lambics are a refreshing addition to desserts like poached fruit, crisps and fruit sorbets. They can also
be an interesting addition to beverages — beer cocktails, anyone?
• To find all the recipes mentioned in this story, visit marinmagazine.com/beer.