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When I’m making beer-cheese soup, or beer-cheese dip, or some kind of stew with beer—can you tell I’m planning a football party?—what type of beer should I use? Some recipes don’t specify.
Optimistic Browns Fan
This is a great question, but I’m afraid there’s not one across-the-board answer. Beer styles vary a lot in terms of flavor, so some are better suited to different dishes. (I’ll break those down below.)
There are some general don’ts, though. Don’t use any really hoppy beers, like IPAs or double IPAs. In general, when you reduce those, their bitterness gets concentrated and can make your final dish taste bitter and vegetal. Don’t use a really stale beer; you can use up a bottle that’s older than you’d prefer to drink, but anything too stale could make your food taste lousy. (If it’s more than a year old, I wouldn’t cook with it.) Don’t use oddly flavored beers. Maybe it goes without saying, but unless you’re doing it purposefully, a beer-cheese dip isn’t the place to use up your lavender pale ale or chocolate-infused dopplebock.
With those out of the way, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Beer-cheese dip or soup: Brown ale, bock, Oktoberfest
The rich grains in these malt-forward beers are the right level of sweet-and-bready for creamy beer-cheese dips.
- Stews: Porters, stouts
You’ll need a beer with flavorful oomph to stand up to the meat’s savoriness. Darker malts’ roasted flavors fit the bill.
- Grilling marinades or glazes: Rauchbier, amber ale
I like the way a rauchbier’s quiet smokiness combines with grill-imparted char, but an amber ale’s balanced sweetness works well too.
- Beer brats: Here you can use your inexpensive American lagers. Bonus points if it’s from Wisconsin.
- Vinaigrettes: Saison, wheat beer
Wheat imparts a hint lemony tartness to beers, which makes these citrusy styles a good fit for lighter vinaigrettes.
- Desserts/baking: Stouts, Belgian dubbels, fruit beers
Assuming we’re not talking about a key lime pie or something, baked desserts tend to be a good fit for sweet stouts, fruity Belgian dubbels, or beers with fruit added. If you end up with a sweet beer you’re not a fan of on its own, try reducing it into a syrup for vanilla ice cream.
Yes and no. When alcohol mixes with water, it forms a compound called an azeotrope. When vapors rise off this liquid, they contain both alcohol and water. The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook states that therefor, in dishes where a lid is used, more alcohol remains in the final dish: “Because most stews and braises are cooked in lidded pots, significant alcohol retention is the rule rather than the exception.” So yes, some alcohol cooks off during preparation, but probably not all of it.