Choosing the Right Beer for a Recipe - dummies

Choosing the Right Beer for a Recipe

By Marty Nachel, Steve Ettlinger

With the wide array of styles available, you need to make a choice about which beer to use in a recipe. Although the everyday, light-bodied, commercial lagers generally do fine, they obviously don’t add as much flavor as other styles. Consider the following factors when choosing a cooking beer:

  • Color: Beers brewed with a large percentage of dark grain, such as Stout and Porter, are likely to transpose their color to your meal — not an appetizing hue for fettuccine Alfredo or scrambled eggs.

  • Level of sweetness (maltiness) versus level of bitterness (hoppiness and grain astringency): Malt is by far the predominant beer taste in a recipe, but bitterness can take over easily because beer’s bitterness increases with reduction (that is, the decrease in volume caused by boiling). Add bitter beer later in a recipe, or if a beer is being cooked for a while, choose a maltier beer style. In general, go with a mild beer rather than a bold one and avoid highly hopped beers, such as some Pale Ales. Sweeter, heavier beers should be reserved for dessert mixes and glazes.

    As the water and alcohol boil off, both the sweet and bitter flavors of the beer intensify.

  • Unusual flavors: Keep in mind that beers are now available in a wide variety of styles, many with flavors that aren’t traditionally associated with beer. You may encounter fruited beers, chocolate beers, sour beers, and smoked beers. It’s not that these flavored beers don’t present lots of culinary possibilities in their own right; they’re just not meant for use in the average recipe.

Unless you’re well versed in beer styles and know what to expect from each, you’ll find the pale but tasty Munich Helles (pale Munich-style lager) well suited to cross-culinary usage.

Beware of the many recipes floating around out there that call for just plain beer as an ingredient, without specifying a particular brand or style. This generalization is evidence of the simplistic and uninformed mentality that a beer is a beer is a beer. Given the great diversity in beer today, using the wrong style can be a recipe for a disastrous meal. On the other hand, if the errant recipe author is from the United States, you can probably assume that a pale, commercial lager is the intended style.