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Infusing food with beer for fun new flavours

By in Culture

VICTORIA STOWE — The Gateway (University of Alberta)

cooking with beer_2

EDMONTON — I always cook with beer. Sometimes, I even put it in my food.

In the past, fine food was often paired with fine wine. In recent years, though, beer has taken over the liquor market and has become a sophisticated beverage to cook with.

When added to food, beer enhances the flavours in the dish and imparts some interesting new ones as well. The malted barley used in brewing can add a wide variety of flavours, from caramel notes to biscuit or hints of chocolate. Hops, the ingredient that makes beer pleasantly bitter, may add notes of pine or citrus depending on what variety the brewmaster has chosen to use.

Of course, beer does more than just add flavour to foods; it’s also a natural meat tenderizer and can enhance the leavening effect in bread. Even beer-haters may get a kick out of adding some brew to their food since it won’t necessarily make food taste like beer. Instead, it adds a depth of flavour that enhances the food, bringing out the more subtle intrinsic flavours of the ingredients.

There are a few things to keep in mind when cooking with beer, and they’re the same rules that apply to pairing a beer to drink with your food.

The first thing to consider is the intensity of the malt and hop flavours, since these features will affect what kind of foods hold up to the flavour of the beer without being overpowered. Milder beers go well with light-coloured, mild-flavoured meats — poultry and seafood come to mind — while beers with more powerful hop and malt tones hold up better against darker, more flavourful meats such as beef and lamb.

It’s also important to take into account the “body” of the brew, meaning how light or heavy a beverage is on the tongue. Remember that this has nothing to do with the colour; a draught Guinness, despite being a dark-coloured beer, is actually quite light in body.

The body of a brew has more to do with the texture of your food. Try to match full-bodied beers with rich foods made with higher-fat ingredients such as cream, cheese or fattier cuts of meat. A really full-bodied beer is heavier on the tongue and may negatively affect the texture of a leaner dish such as vegetables or lean meats.

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Another quality of the beer to keep in mind is what flavours it leaves on your tongue — known as the “finish.” These are the flavours you want to match with ingredients in your recipe. If you have a wheat beer with a citrus finish, think of other foods you add lemon and lime juice to, such as fish and other seafood. Many stouts and porters use “chocolate malt,” a type of barley that’s roasted and tends to add cocoa and coffee notes to the brew. These varieties can add depth to a barbecue sauce, or make your chocolate cake more decadent than ever.

And let’s not forget dessert. Most beers have a little bit of sweetness because malted barley releases sugars when boiled in the beer-making process. The yeast ferments some of these sugars, while others remain in the beer to be enjoyed by the imbiber.

Winter is a particularly good season to make desserts using beer because it’s when craft breweries bring out their spiced ales and lagers, which are excellent when mixed into holiday pumpkin pie and gingerbread treats. Lambic beers work well in fruit desserts as well, since these beers are naturally acidic and often flavoured with red berries to accentuate the tartness.


French Onion Soup

The best part of this soup is the cheese-smothered toasted bread on top known as a crouton. The savoury flavours of the cheese and onions make this a great contender for beer cooking, working especially well with a full-bodied brown ale or wheat beer. Try Newcastle Brown Ale or Fin du Monde by Unibroue out of Quebec. This tasty recipe makes six to eight servings.


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  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 8 cups beef stock
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  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6-8 slices French bread, cut in rounds
  • 1 cup grated cheese


1. Heat oil over low heat in a heavy soup pot. Add onions, cover and sweat until they’re tender (15-25 minutes).

2. In a separate pot, heat the beef stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

3. Remove the cover from the onions, increase heat to medium and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook 30-40 minutes, stirring often until the onions are golden and caramelized.

4. Sprinkle in the flour; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes.

5. Remove onions from heat and whisk in the beef stock. Add the beer, rosemary, and thyme. Season to taste.

6. Return pot to range and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook, partially covered, for 40-60 minutes.

7. When ready to serve, turn on oven broiler and toast bread rounds.

8. Ladle soup into individual oven-proof bowls.

9. Place a piece of toasted bread on top of soup and sprinkle generously with grated cheese.

10. Warm soup under broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.


This recipe is a twist on the classic tiramisu, which literally translates to “it lifts me up.” Using beer in place of the espresso may have the reverse effect without the caffeine additive, but it’ll be delicious nonetheless. Be sure to use a rich, full-bodied stout with chocolate or coffee notes, such as Aphrodisiaque from Dieu du Ciel or Young’s Chocolate Stout for the best tiramisu flavour. This recipe makes six to eight servings.


  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1 cup full-bodied stout or porter
  • 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (e.g. Kahlua)
  • 16 Italian ladyfinger cookies (savoiardi)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder


1. Beat together egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about two minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

2. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with clean beaters until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add remaining ¼ cup sugar while beating. Continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks.

3. In a separate bowl, beat cream in until it reaches the soft peak stage.

4. Gently fold cream into mascarpone mixture, followed by egg whites.

5. Stir together stout and Kahlua in a shallow bowl.

6. Dip each ladyfinger in stout mixture, soaking for four seconds on each side. Transfer to an 8-inch glass baking dish or decorative bowl (two-quart capacity). Arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit.

7. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers.

8. Make another layer of stout-soaked ladyfingers in same manner.

9. Top with remaining mascarpone mixture.

10. Cover dessert and chill for at least 6 hours.

11. Just before serving, sprinkle with sifted cocoa powder.

Graphic: Jessica Hong/The Gateway

  • Teezpa

    I hate beer. I can’t stand that bitter taste. Recently our university’s pub/restaurant has “updated” the menu and now beer is involved in almost every meal. Their food was not too good to begin with, but now it’s actually inedible. I had to send back food after having only two bites, and I’d never done that in my life. Using beer in cooking is certainly creative, but doesn’t necessarily enhance the flavours.

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