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Dinner’s brewing

From sauces to sweets, cooking with beer imparts complexity to dishes

Don’t just hand Dad a beer with dinner this Father’s Day – serve him some suds in his food, too.

While still not quite so familiar as cooking with wine, using beer in recipes has become increasingly commonplace as the craft-brewing culture continues to grow.

“You get more complex flavors with beer than if you’re using wine or vinegars,” says Michael Noble, chef-owner of Waddell’s Neighborhood Pub & Grille in southeast Spokane. “You have a lot more layers of flavor to work with.”

As with wine, there are some general guidelines. Lighter beers tend to work best with more delicate dishes, while burlier brews complement heartier concoctions.

“As a rule, any beer that tastes good with the food is good to use in cooking it,” No-Li Brewhouse chef Lane Truesdell said.

But there are exceptions, particularly with hoppier beers, which tend to become unpleasantly bitter as they cook. India pale ales may be all the rage among beer drinkers, but they don’t necessarily translate well to the kitchen.

Barry Matthews, executive chef at the Steam Plant, hadn’t cooked with beer all that much before coming to the downtown Spokane restaurant and brewery 11 years ago.

“It’s been an ongoing education,” Matthews said. “I’ve spit a lot of stuff out. … There are a lot of disappointments, but when you do hit that right note, it’s awesome.”

He uses the house huckleberry ale in a brine for smoked chicken and in a tomato-based barbecue sauce, puts beer in his chilies (jalapeño ale in lighter chicken chili, Scottish in a more robust winter version) and marinates steak skewers in wheat beer.

Beer works well in marinades because it’s less acidic than wine or vinegar, so it tenderizes meats without breaking down their texture so quickly, according to Lucy Saunders, author of several beer cookbooks.

It also doesn’t contribute the sourness vinegar can, said No-Li’s Truesdell. He marinates beef and pork in a mixture of two parts of the brewery’s Silent Treatment Pale Ale and one part each soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and sugar.

He also likes to replace most of the vinegar in salad dressings with beer; one place where hoppier beers are at home, he said, is in citrusy vinaigrettes.

“For beginners, dressings are probably the best place to start,” Truesdell said. “Anytime you’re not cooking the beer, you’re working with direct flavors that you already know.”

That can even extend to desserts. Truesdell takes prepared vanilla ice cream, softens it enough to work with, mixes in beer (about a pint per half-gallon) and other add-ins, then refreezes it. His latest creation used the brewery’s seasonal Mosaic pale ale and pureed mandarin orange.

The Steam Plant’s bourbon vanilla Double Stack Stout goes into ice cream there, and Noble made some at Waddell’s using Ellensburg-based Iron Horse Brewing’s ginger-honey High Five Hefeweizen.

Noble was recently filmed working with regional beers for a new series, “Washington Grown,” that will air this fall on Northwest Cable News.

He makes a barbecue sauce with Laughing Dog’s Anubis imperial coffee porter – “if you use dark beer, it gives it that kind of complex flavor,” he explained – and will offer such specials over the summer as clams steamed in Coeur d’Alene Brewing’s Huckleberry Ale, and fish battered with Iron Goat’s Garbage Pale Ale.

“Cooking with beer has really opened up my creative side,” Noble said. “It’s fun, but challenging at the same time.”

For home cooks, he said, something as simple as grilled beer-can chicken takes on new dimensions with craft beers.

“You can add beer to a sauce or a baste, put some amber in your baked beans,” Noble said. “Then you can see how, ‘Oh, beer does this to my food; now I can see what it will do in other recipes.’ ”

Just be careful with how much beer you use, he cautioned: “When you’re going, ‘That’s not enough,’ it could be plenty.”

If a recipe calls for a cup of liquid, try replacing one-quarter of that with beer for starters, Matthews suggested.

“Get a good quality beer, a good microbrew – don’t try playing around with Budweiser,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how we do it.”

Summer’s more casual cuisine, which relies less on longer-cooking dishes, is a good place to start safely sneaking beer into recipes. Here are a few ideas for Father’s Day, or any day.

Sweet-N-Hot Beer Mustard

From “Great American Beer Cookbook” by Candy Schermerhorn (Brewers Publications, 1993). You can experiment with a range of beers here to see how the results vary; No-Li’s Crystal Bitter is a good choice if you’re pairing this with the burger recipe that follows. It will be richer if you use egg yolks instead of cornstarch, but either way, the quantities called for in the recipe make a rather thick mustard. If you like yours thinner, try using one yolk, or 2 teaspoons cornstarch.

1/4 cup dry yellow mustard powder

1/3 cup beer of your choice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Scant 1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

2 beaten egg yolks (or 1 tablespoon cornstarch)

Whisk together all ingredients except egg yolks or cornstarch. Cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Whisk in yolks and place mixture in top of a double boiler. Cook over medium-low heat until thickened, whisking constantly. Cool and keep refrigerated for up to three weeks.

Yield: About 1 cup

CBCBs (Crystal Bitter Cheese Burgers)

From No-Li Brewhouse chef Lane Truesdell. The relatively small amount of beer adds flavor and moisture to these grilled burgers.

2 pounds ground beef

Scant 1/4 cup No-Li Crystal Bitter

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Cheese (Truesdell prefers pepper jack) and other burger fixings


Combine the beef, beer and seasonings and form into 6 to 8 patties. Refrigerate for at least one hour to firm up before grilling.

Remove patties from refrigerator and heat grill. Grill until done to your liking, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once and topping with cheese after turning, to melt. Serve on buns with condiments of your choice.

Yield: 6 to 8 burgers

Beer Brats With Caramelized Onions

From the “Eat, Live, Run” blog ( A dark, malty German-style lager works well with these; I used the Dragon’s Breath dunkelweizen from Bayern Brewing in Missoula. For a somewhat lighter option, try Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 pound bratwurst (about 4 links)

1 (12-ounce) bottle beer

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

While outdoor grill is preheating, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until golden. Add garlic and sauté for another 3 minutes, until toasty.

Add the bratwurst to the pan, along with the beer. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Remove sausages with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Bring beer mixture to a boil again and add the salt, brown sugar and Worcestershire. Stir well and simmer until beer is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Meanwhile, grill bratwurst until browned, turning, about 5 minutes.

Serve brats with sauce and onions on top, either in buns or on a plate.

Yield: 4 servings

Beer-Poached Salmon

From Sandra Lee at the Food Network ( I made this with Copper River salmon and used Alaskan Amber, both for its mellow flavor and to make the fish feel at home. You can reduce the seasoning and sugar if you prefer more of a pure fish flavor. Just be careful not to get your grill too hot or overcook the fish; you want it to simmer, not boil, or the salmon will get dry and tough.

1 salmon fillet, about 1 1/2 pounds

2 teaspoons garlic salt (or other seasoning of your choice)

3 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1 small red onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1 (12-ounce) bottle beer

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Using aluminum foil, create an oblong cooking tray (approximately 13 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches). Place salmon in center of tray. Season with garlic salt, sprinkle with brown sugar, then cover with butter pieces. Top with red onion slices, if using.

Pour beer into tray to just below the highest point of the fillet and cover tightly with more aluminum foil. Place tray on grill and cook, covered, for about 8 minutes or until just cooked through.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Fudge Stout Brownies

From “The Best of American Beer & Food” by Lucy Saunders (Brewers Publications, 2007). You can use a variety of stouts in this decadent dessert, from lighter and sweeter to richer and roastier. I got good results with an old standby, Deschutes’ Obsidian Stout.

Butter for coating pan

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter

4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup stout (or 2 ounces stout plus 1 ounce brewed espresso)

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare an 8- or 9-inch metal baking pan by buttering it well and dusting inside with 1 tablespoon cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat until liquid. Add chopped chocolate, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool to lukewarm.

Stir in sugars and mix well. Beat together eggs and additional yolks, vanilla, stout and bourbon (if using) in a large measuring cup until smooth. Sift flour with salt. Stir stout mixture into saucepan by thirds, alternating with flour, until batter is just blended. Stir in nuts if desired. Do not overbeat.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour. Let cool before slicing.

Yield: 16 brownies