Chew on Your Brew

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As consumers’ palates become more adventurous and sophisticated, so does their thirst for craft beverages that will complement their culinary selections. They are not simply searching for new beverages, but they also want to incorporate beer into many of the foods they eat, just as we have been doing with wine for a number of years. Restaurants are using beer to pump up both flavor and sales by tapping into the growing consumer demand.

Today’s dishes are getting a flavor boost from all kinds of beer, from bitter pale ales and pilsners to complex barley wines. Beer can be a powerful ingredient that offers sweetness, roast, aromatics, and acidity. Some of the same principles used when cooking with wine apply; only beer will impart a toasty, malt flavor to the dish. Beer needs to be used with care, so as not to make any food taste bitter. Because of the hops it contains, too much reduction will cause a bitter flavor. Evaporation and heat tends to alter flavors as well. The carbonation from beer is an added benefit for batter such as used for frying fish.

Beer can also be used in any number of applications from vinaigrettes to slow braising. It can be left in its natural state (not cooked at all) if using for an aioli, vinaigrette or braising. If it’s being incorporated into foods, try to bridge the aromas and flavors of the other ingredients with that of the beverage. Finding common ground, such as pairing pumpkin ale within a pumpkin pie, is ideal.

Beer’s favorite partner is cheese. These two go way back – consider the Middle Ages, when monasteries were known for producing exceptional beer and cheese. Cheese is relatively high in salt and fat so when mixed with beer, the residual sugar from the malt contrasts pleasantly with salt. There’s a reason why there are always salty snacks like pretzels at the bar.