search
Loading
|  home | feedback | help          
Features Cooking With Beer Banner
 
Cooking with Beer in Savory and Sweet Dishes March 2010

Spezial Rauchbier, Bamberg, Franconia, Germany
Spezial Rauchbier, Bamberg, Franconia, Germany
The Fundamentals
For chef and pastry chef team Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac of DC’s Birch & Barley restaurant and ChurchKey beer bar, cooking with beer is as fundamental to their food as wine is in a traditional French restaurant. Beer in food is not a new concept—it’s believed that the Belgians have been experimenting with suds in the kitchen since they’ve been brewing the stuff in the Middle Ages.

Both Bailey and MacIsaac earned their culinary chops in French-leaning kitchens, Cru among them. But when given the chance, Bailey started experimenting with replacing beer for wine in more classic preparations, like risotto. He had his fair share of inedible failures, but he learned what doesn’t work when cooking with beer.

Maintaining a Balance
Rule number one, for Bailey, reduced beer generally results in overly bitter results; the exception is when you use a super malty beer with little hops. As Bailey explains, “beer without hops would be sweet; the hops add bitterness that balances out the sweetness. That’s its purpose.”  And when it’s reduced, that hoppy bitterness is the dominant flavor.

Whipped Burrata, Fried Green Tomato, Heirloom Baby Tomatoes, Housemade Mozzarella, and Balsamic Reduction paired with Oerbier Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Esen, Belgium
Whipped Burrata, Fried Green Tomato, Heirloom Baby Tomatoes, Housemade Mozzarella, and Balsamic Reduction paired with Oerbier Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Esen, Belgium

Bailey’s second rule is that you don’t just use any beer when cooking. When you’re able to work with quality beers, there’s a lot of nuance of flavors to pick up on and pair or contrast with other flavors in the dish.  As Bailey puts it “the point isn’t to just cook with beer, but to support the flavor of beer in food and vice-a-versa.”

The chef ferments his own cabbage for the restaurant’s beer-braised sauerkraut that tops their sell-out Birch & Barley Brat Burger; he adds caraway and coriander seeds to the mix and likes to use a beer with citrus notes to pick up the spice flavors. His preference is for wheat beers from Germany or Belgium, some of which are brewed with such complimentary flavors as orange zest and coriander.

Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Rhubarb, Verjus Rouge, Golden Raisins, Tarragon, Candied Ginger, Candied Almonds, and Black Pepper Brioche paired with L'Ultima Luna, Birrificio del Ducato, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Rhubarb, Verjus Rouge, Golden Raisins, Tarragon, Candied Ginger, Candied Almonds, and Black Pepper Brioche paired with L'Ultima Luna, Birrificio del Ducato, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Rules of Thumb
Likewise, MacIsaac has a few rules of thumb for working with beer in her baked and pastry items. Primary among them, avoid smoky beers.  “They end up making the dish taste like a forest fire,” MacIsaac says. Similarly, another of MacIsaac’s tips is to go for subtlety—you don’t want the dish or item to scream beer on the palate.

“Beer is so great for pastry,” she says. “You have dark, roasty flavors, and oatmeal, banana, and coffee notes in beer—all go great with classic dessert ingredients, like chocolate.”  She leans heavily on stouts and porters for their malty richness, and also employs ciders for picking up sweeter or fruitier flavors. For her Hard Cider-Roasted Apple Beignet, Golden Raisin Puree, Candied Walnuts, and Honey-Stout Ice Cream dish, she poaches apple in a slightly sweet cider, and uses an oatmeal stout to hydrate her beignet dough and flavor ice cream. 

Beer in Baking
MacIsaac’s house-made bread is a top beneficiary of the restaurant’s ample supply of beer (the beer list has 500+ bottle, over 50 brews on tap, and an average of three cask ales). After all, as Bailey points out, “beer is basically liquid bread.” They both use yeast to ferment and produce carbon dioxide; one just uses a lot more wheat in the mix. MacIsaac substitutes beer for water in her doughs, noting that the beer’s effervescence makes for a fluffier crumb. For her pretzel rolls she uses a porter or stout; cider typically goes into her bacon and sage rolls; while “tart and funky” beers are reserved for her orange zest and dried cranberry-studded multigrain bread.

But one of the most important culinary rules that the chef team shares is to not waste anything. MacIsaac uses the dregs left in the beer lines once a keg is emptied for her doughs  (but, she warns, account for the leftover yeast that’s in the beer when you add it to your dough—she always keeps her doughs within eye-shot to prevent any messy overflows).  Beer Director Greg Engert brings down sample bottles for the kitchen to use. And they also get any beer that has turned but is still perfectly usable for culinary purposes. (Bailey and MacIsaac emphasize the impeccably high standards Engert has for the beers he serves; if it’s even slightly off, the beer is ushered off the menu and often brought to the kitchen.) And having dozens of beers on tap allows the chefs to get just an ounce or two of the beer at a time, instead of opening a whole bottle.

Bailey and MacIsaac are careful not to overload their menu with beer-infused dishes. They don’t want to come off as gimmicky and certainly the massive beer menu speaks for itself. But touches of porter, stout, and lager used judiciously, in the right way, have helped solidify the restaurant’s beer and food concept—perhaps giving the long-embraced food and wine ethos a run for its money.

 

 

 
 
hotlinks_general_narrow
  • Beer Pairings at The Publican in Chicago
  • Experts on Beer Pairing
  • Belgian Beer + Food Pairing
  • Videos : Chef Bart Vandaele on Beer + Food
  • More on Beer + Food Pairing


  •  Sign up for our newsletters!|Print this page|Email this page to a friend
     QuickMeals   Chefs   Rising Stars   Hospitality Jobs   Find a School   Wine   Community   Features   Food Events   News   Ask the Experts   Tickets   Cookbooks
    About Us | Career Opportunities | Media Kit | StarChefs in the News | Site Map
    Please help keep StarChefs a free service by displaying our button on your website. Click here for details.
      Copyright © 1995-2014 StarChefs. All rights reserved.  | Privacy Policy