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Opportunities Abound When Cooking with Beer

by Travis Miller

Few things compliment a meal as well as a great beer. With such a variety of styles and flavors, you can find a beer to go with just about everything. And as proud ambassadors of the Craft Beer Revolution here in America, we at Gentle Ben’s embrace our love of beer: not only do we offer up the full gamut on draught, we also cook with it. That’s right: we put our beer right in the food, into our sauces and, in the case of our Rueben Sandwich, into the meat itself.

Cooking with alcohol, of course, is nothing new. Chefs have been utilizing the rich flavors of wine and liquor in their dishes for centuries. The rising popularity of micro-brews, however, has thrust beer, this most versatile of beverages, into the culinary spotlight. As Gentle Ben’s Kitchen Manager Erich Border pointed out, it’s the wide range of flavors that makes beer such an interesting ingredient in the kitchen.

“Cooking with alcohol, in general, opens up a whole world of flavors,” explained Border. “And for a chef, that’s what we need to work: flavor. … With beer, however, there are so many varieties and flavors you could go on all day adding and substituting beer for all kinds of dishes. Light beers for fish; darker, heavier beers for meats like beef and pork. And then there are beer batters: those can be made with all different beers, depending on how it’s used. Really, the possibilities are endless.”

Broadly speaking, beer can be broken down into three main categories—hop-centric brews, malt-centric brews, and yeast-centric brews (see our previous post "Beer Pairing 101")—and each lends its own complexity to a dish. Hoppy beers, such as India Pale Ales (IPAs), offer added acidity, which is why it’s a perfect addition to our pretzel-dipping Nuclear Beer Mustard. Yeasty beers like Hefeweizens produce a light, fluffy texture, which is especially useful when making batters. As for malty beers, which include the Barrio Rojo, Nolan’s Porter, and NCAAle, the subtle sweetness in the beer is transferred, in all its wonderful complexity, to the food it meets.

It’s that sweetness, explained Border, that chefs often look for.

“The mix of the Raspberry Ale and Porter in our chipotle aioli creates a sweeter, more assertive flavor profile to compliment our Baja Fish Tacos,” said Border. “And we bake our corned beef [for the Rueben Sandwich] in the Rojo, giving it a very unique flavor. Sort of a little sweetness, you know?”

These are but a few examples of the many exciting things you can do when cooking with beer. And when you’re talking food and beer, there are no wrong answers. Both can be wonderful on their own, but together they create something even better. It’s just a matter of experimenting in the kitchen until you achieve your personal favorite food/beer harmonics.

If you're thinking about doing some beer experiments in your own kitchen, feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have!

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