Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Cook with Expensive Beer!!!

Cooking with beer is nothing new, but the trend does seem to be taking flight as of late.  I have occasionally cringed to see recipes that use a beer that would be better put to use by drinking it -- say, making an ice cream sauce from Deschutes Abyss.   But the recent event that made today's rant inevitable was Beer Advocate's Thanksgiving installment of the Homebrew Chef, which counseled readers to brine their turkeys with 4 (four) 750 ml bottles of Allagash Tripel, and serve it up with cranberry sauce made from an even rarer Deschutes beer than Abyss:  The Dissident.

Beer can chicken is one thing, but soaking a turkey in $40-$50 worth of beer which then has to be dumped down the drain is just sick.  And no matter what your opinion is on extremely sour American takes on Belgian ales, can you see opening a bottle which is nearly impossible to get hold of right now, and pouring it into cranberry sauce?

Look, if you find that beer adds a flavorful dimension to your cooking, that's great.  But suppose a recipe calls for red wine.  Are you going to add 2 cups of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape to it?  No, because it's an insult to a wine of that quality, not to mention a silly waste of money.  You'll use a good-enough table wine, and your food won't be any worse for it.

I suppose a Deschutes chef cooking with Abyss is just using what he has on hand, though I don't think the dish would have suffered any from the use of the less costly Obsidian Stout instead.  Here's a picture of Alan Sprints whipping up some chocolate-raspberry sorbet that includes some Hair of the Dog Adam.  It's not a cheap beer, but he's the brewer and it's what he's got.  Even so, I doubt he would pull out some of his barrel-aged creations and give them the same treatment.  [Oops! Matt points out in a comment below that Alan has made cheesecakes and ice creams with Cherry Adam from the Wood.  Now I don't have to feel so bad for making him the expensive-beer-cooking poster boy.]

I'm not the first person to inveigh against the evils of cooking with rare beer  Here's a year-old blog post from across the pond that gets it about right:  "Sometimes, it seems the point is to impress with big beer names. Regardless of the impact it actually has on the dish’s flavour."   There are also a couple of quasi-sensible comments about it on the Beer Advocate turkey-brining fiasco mentioned above.

Respect beer: don't cook with the rare stuff!


  1. Bill,

    Did you see in the letter section of the last issue of BeerAdvocate that someone was complaining about the recipes you just mentioned? They agreed that it was too much money in beer cost, and when they made the recipes the outcome wasn't worth the cost.

    Alan once made a Cherry Adam from the Wood cheesecake which was out of this world. But after talking Wendy about how many bottles went in and considering the retail cost lost from using those bottles I understand why they use regular Adam now. Another time they had Cherry Adam ftW ice cream which had unpitted cherries in it. That was a nice treat too.

    I'm sure Jim Bonomo can chime in about his Black Tuesday and Schaerbeekse Kriek hot sauces ;-P

  2. I knew someone would mention the hot sauce fiasco. I agree that it's definitely indulgent and entirely unnecessary, but an experiment that had to be tried once. I think it was an overall successful one, but next time I will use a cheaper bourbon stout and/or cheaper kriek to achieve similar effect.

  3. @Matt: I skimmed that issue, so I must have read the letter. I'll take another gander when I get home. This rant has been gestating since November, though: I blurted out an incredulous tweet when I first read the recipes.

    And thanks for the info about the Cherry Adam dishes -- though I hope they used the undercarbonated vintage that disappointed everyone. There, that's an acceptable use for beer in cooking: make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

  4. I couldn't agree more. Kinda makes me go back to my days of poking fun at yuppies for blowing such massive amounts of money on things that don't really require it.

    I find that there are many great substitutes that can be used in place of the expensive stuff.. without any notice in the cooked food.

    Bourbon stout? How about a nice bourbon flavored extract and an inexpensive but great imperial stout like say... Full Sails. I can see using a little bit of that.

    A Triple? How about homebrew a large batch using only DME. I have had fantastic Triples brewed simply with DME.

    A Pinot Noir? Grab a fantastic one, but cheap... like Trinity Oaks.. a bottle is like $5. And it is great.

    Nice write-up.

  5. "Expensive" may be subjective to ones Socioeconomic status and Gastronomic prowess?

    Some people may enjoy a Ding Dong and a Pabst, while others would rather indulge in a Chocolate Cherry Adam Cheesecake. More than likely each of these people are at different levels of gastronomic and/or Socioeconomic status.

    Who is to judge?

    "People only rain on your parade because they're jealous of your sun and tired of their shade."


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