Cooking With Beer

I’m always amazed by people that think vegans can’t drink beer. In addition to digesting fermented malt juice, vegans can also beat up NHLers, survive tsunamis, seduce women with their sweet bass vocals, (occasionally) share a bed with the future most-powerful-person-in-the-world and be the most badass dude in Hollywood.

Tsunami survivor Petra Němcová
Tsunami survivor Petra Němcová

In Southern California, where craft brewers and animal lovers abound, there’s even a vegan craft beer and food festival.

Despite being full-on veg for more than a decade I’ve never had a problem drinking my favourite beverage. I gave up on Guinness, but that was no great loss with St. Ambroise‘s Oatmeal Stout already in regular supply. Milk stouts, honey ales and obviously anything that has bacon is off limits, but I have a lot more difficulty finding new beer, than vegan beer.

Being a vegan generally means cooking for yourself from time to time, and for me beer has increasingly become a key ingredient. The results have been far better than I expected from my simple self. I’ve never been very creative in the kitchen, usually more concerned with making portions large enough to spread over several meals. Recently though, flavour has been inspiring me to be more experimental.

Crusty weizen bread, gingerbread porter muffins, IIPA mustard and smoky maple beer nuts
Crusty weizen bread, gingerbread porter muffins, IIPA mustard and smoky maple beer nuts

Two things I was told before I began:

    1. Never cook with a beer you don’t enjoy.
    2. Cooking intensifies the flavours found in the beer (which is why #1 is so important)

I started with bread, which worked so well – dense and chewy goodness inside a solid, rocky crust – that I’ve stopped buying loaves (my beer bread is actually better the second and third day, when it’s reheated in the toaster oven). At the time Black Creek Historic Brewery was producing Dray Horse Ale; a brown ale that had a very bready flavour. It was a natural.

From there I moved on to pancakes with Amsterdam Oranje Weisse. A wheat beer made sense as a complement to the recipe’s flour. What I didn’t expect was how much of the bright citrus flavour would come through. Again, it was a great success.

Over time I switched things up. Jalapeño, rosemary and black pepper are now regular additions to my bread and sometimes I’ll use all-purpose flour in place of whole wheat flour, ergo, I’ll use a beer with a lighter malt bill (Hacker-Pschorr Weiss is excellent).

Pancakes made with St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale
Pancakes made with St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

For pancakes, which are now a weekly tradition, I switch it up between the Oranje Weisse (when it’s in season), KLB Raspberry Wheat and St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat – my wife’s favourite. A couple weeks ago I had no fruit beer so I used Side Launch Wheat, with its estery (fruity) character, and tossed in some freshly pummeled blueberries. It was delicious. Another time, while making breakfast in someone else’s kitchen, I had to make do with whatever beer was in their fridge and subbed in Beau’s All Natural Smokin’ Banana Peels. It contains no actual banana (or peels), but its distinctive flavour still came through.

Mostly I’m sticking to recipes I find online or in the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook (David Ort, Whitecap Books), and making adjustments to either suit my vegan lifestyle or replace something the LCBO might not have in stock.

Smoky Maple Framboise almonds
Smoky Maple Framboise almonds

Knowing your way around beer helps. My first attempt at making beer nuts (from the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook) could have been thwarted by the fact there wasn’t a rauchbier to be found within miles of my downtown Toronto home. Having had Church Key‘s and Aecht Schlenkerla‘s smoked beers on several occasions, I knew how dominant the smokiness was, so when I decided to substitute the elusive rauchbier with fruit beer I opted for Amsterdam Framboise. It’s brewed with actual raspberries (not syrup) giving it a more intense flavour. Had I picked something more subtle I likely would have had to use more than the prescribed 4 tsp, probably making a reduction before combining it with the other ingredients.

All of these recipes have been ridiculously easy, using a few, fairly common ingredients and involving minimal prep time. Other dead simple wins from the craft beer cookbook include sesame ginger edamame with a stout base, mustard made from an IIPA and wild beer vinegar (one ingredient!).

Sesame-ginger edamame
Sesame ginger edamame, swimming in Beau’s All Natural Matt’s Sleepy Time Stout
Wild Beer Vinegar
Wild Beer Vinegar, made with Amsterdam Boneshaker IIPA
IIPA Stout
IIPA Stout, made with the same can of Amsterdam Boneshaker

To be honest, not everything has gone well. My attempt at drunken vegan grilled cheese was a two-time failure. I’ve abandoned that one. There will be no photos.

Vegan jalapeno-chipotle mac'n'cheese
Vegan jalapeno-chipotle mac’n’cheese

But cheesy vegan dishes can still be made better with beer. Once, to make the sauce for my vegan mac’n’cheese, I added a flat bottle of jalapeño beer in place of water for  some added kick. After some time in the oven I topped the cheesy macaroni with fresh jalapeño, green onion and chipotle chili powder for a spicy, beery dish that still makes my mouth water when I think about it. If jalapeño beer was easier to come by in Ontario, this would be a regular treat.

The most impressive result from my new found appreciation for beer cuisine was also the most involved. Vegan chocolate cheesecake, made with Sawdust City‘s Bloody Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (a raspberry imperial stout), was a two-day mission incorporating about a dozen ingredients, a couple electronic devices and plenty of dishes. Still, so worth it.

Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake with Sawdust City’s Bloody Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (Rasperry Imperial Stout)

I wish there were more resources online to explain why certain beers work with the foods I want to prepare. I’m going mostly by intuition at this point, so if someone can point me to places to learn more, I’d sure appreciate it.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for all the websites that at least offer recipes. Good beer and veganism have both made my life better. The more ways I can find to bring the two together, the more I can help other vegans find a place in an industry that generally doesn’t recognize them.

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