Cooking with Beer

Add flavor to your favorite recipes with a splash of brew.

If you're a beer lover, chances are your favorite way to serve beer is straight up in a big, frosty mug. But don't confine your preferred brew to the cup – many dishes, including stews, soups and yes, even sweets, can be flavored with beer.

The Basics

Why cook with beer? Beer adds a rich, earthy flavor to soups and stews that makes them taste like they've been simmering for hours. Beers with a sweet or nutty taste can add depth to desserts. And don't worry about getting drunk – virtually all of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process.

While some recipes call specifically for beer, many recipes that call for wine can be prepared with a brew – they'll come out with a more malty, toasty flavor. Just like wine, you should never cook with a beer that you wouldn't drink. If you don't like the flavor in a cup, chances are it won't appeal to you on a plate.

Different Beers, Different Flavors

Different beers pair well with different foods, so it's important to learn the taste differences before you hit the kitchen. Beer can be divided into two main groups: ales and lagers. Ale, the original beer, is brewed in a way that results in fruity, earthy flavors. Lagers make use of more modern brewing systems to be lighter and drier. Each type of beer has a distinctly different flavor that pairs well with certain foods. Below, you'll find a breakdown of several common types and some recipes that use each one.

Four Types of Ale: Wheat Beers, Pale Ale, Stouts and Porter

Wheat Beers

Wheat beers are pale, often unfiltered (thus cloudy), and have fruity, mellow, crisp-edged flavors, well-matched for salads and fish. Wheat beers with spicier flavors can also complement grilled red meats. Look out for "White," "Wit," "Weiss," or "Weizen" on the label --that'll tell you it's a wheat beer.

Recipes to Try:

Pale Ale and Bitter

These are classic British ales. Bitter is always served on tap and turns into pale ale once bottled and filtered. Bitter has very little carbonation, and is traditionally served slightly colder than room temperature; its crispness cuts beautifully through rich, fatty meats like game. Pale ale is stronger, with more bracing carbonation, and goes well with everything from bread and cheese to fish and chips.

India Pale Ale (sometimes called IPA) is a stronger, more bitter version of pale ale, crafted in the end of the 18th century specifically to withstand the several-months-long boat journey from Britain to India. While excellent for drinking, IPAs can be too bitter for cooking.

Recipes to Try:

Porter

This brew started out in the 1700s as a blend of beers, blended for each individual customer according to his preference. As blending caught on in popularity in both Britain and America, breweries started to create their own proprietary porter blends, thus eliminating the bartender as blending middleman. Porter tastes like a combination of stout and pale ale; it's less toasty than stout and less bitter than pale ale, and it picks up the flavors in stews especially well.

Recipes to Try:

Stout

Stout is what you think of when you think Irish beer. It's black and dry-tasting, with toasty coffee-and-chocolate flavors, a fluffy-but-solid head and, surprisingly, less alcohol than most other beers. Despite its foreboding appearance, stout brings out the flavors in everything from shellfish to stews. Because of its distinct coffee and chocolate notes, it's also perfect for blending into rich desserts.

Recipes to Try:

Two Basic Lagers: Pilsner and Bock

Pilsner, a crisp, bitter lager, originated in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. It's a bright and snappy beer with the appetizing sharpness for grilled sausage and the backbone to stand up to spicy Asian flavors and oily fish. 

Bock beers are strong, dark and flavorful, with yeasty, malty flavors. They've got a roasty, caramely, barley-based sweetness braced with bitter structure, and are perfect alongside pork and root vegetables. Doppelbock is even stronger, and excellent with bolder cheeses.

Recipes to Try: