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Lucy Saunders
4230 N. Oakland #178
Shorewood WI
53211 USA
@ site name

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Sweet Homebrew Chicago

At 6 AM last Saturday, I began slicing smoked duck, donated by the Nueske Farmcrest Meats folk, for a salad destined to feed 125 hungry homebrewers at the AHA 2003 Conference, Sweet Homebrew Chicago.

That's 6 quarts of smoked duck, marinating in Raspberry Tart Ale!

It was a food fest all day long, thanks to the organizing committee's decision to make cuisine part of the homebrew scene at this year's conference.

From Fred Eckhardt's perennially wonderful chocolate and beer extravaganza, to the tasting of specialty foods and cheeses that wrapped up the finale, homebrewers from across the country savored the flavors of real beer, real food.

Several people asked me to put my speech online, so here's the edited version. My thanks to the food donors who made it possible for me to feed so many: the Palace Kitchen, for the brewmaster's snack mix; Nueske Meats, for the smoked duck; the Spice House, for the sweet Hungarian paprika; and to New Glarus Brewing Co., for the Raspberry Tart Ale.

That's because I think of beer as food. And I have lots of company - for example, the Allagash Brewing Co. collaborated with the Institute of Culinary Education on a recipe contest, Newcastle Brown ale is marketing an ice cream made with its brew, and for the first time this year, the GABF will feature chef demos with chefs from Johnson & Wales, a culinary school in Providence Rhode Island which has a brewing lab, courtesy of Coors.

When I cook with beer, I think of flavors first. I steer clear of making blanket recommendations such as "lager with fish," because fish can be oily and strong, as in a bluefish, or taste mild and sweet, like tilapia. Likewise, lagers can be pungent, peppery and hoppy, or little more than malted fizzy water. Preparations and seasonings change the flavor profile even more.

Ingredients help determine which cooking method to use, but also flavors and seasonings influence what style of beer I use in cooking.

Here's a preview of a chart about seasonings and food flavors that I think harmonize with beer:

Wild card flavors that go well with just about every style of beer include condiments such as mustard, roasted root vegetables and just about every member of the allium family.

Belgian ales: coriander, mint, melon, orange, brown sugar, pomegranate juice, oven-dried plums, raisins, some varieties of peppers, soft ripened cheeses

Kolsch: mango, honey, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, roasted sweet corn, goat's milk chevre

Pilsner: paprika, shallots, tarragon, basil, curry, lemon

Stout: piney, resinous spices such as rosemary, cloves, also garlic; meaty and smoky flavors such as bacon,grilled portabello mushrooms, caramel flavors such as sundried tomatoes or candied pecans, and in desserts, ginger, chocolate and walnuts - or even ice cream, as shown by Michele of Rogue Brewing Co., putting together stout-chocolate floats.

Pale ale: chili, cumin, lavendar, red currants, Worcestershire sauce, toasted pine nuts, grated Cheddar

Bock: wild mushrooms, browned butter, grilled onions, pistachios, cashews, thyme, nutmeg and grated Parmesan cheese

It was a flavor combination that got me started on this trip of cooking with beer: rosemary and stout. I'd traveled to London on a press trip and Michael Jackson took our group to a pub called the White Horse on Parson's Green. The chef prepared lamb chops marinated in Mackeson's stout with rosemary and a bit of garlic. The meat was so tender, flavorful and the stout taste married so well with the roasted meat, I was hooked. I came back to the pub a year later and worked as an intern.

And at that time, in the early 1990s, internships seemed to be the only way to learn about cooking with beer. Until Johnson & Wales launched its brewing lab with Coors, no culinary school in the US offered a formal, onsite curricula that included brewing - there were occasional field trips to breweries, or perhaps the topic of beer was covered in the beverage education course, and then only from an operations standpoint, such as draft line setup and how to calculate profits from the sale of draft beer. Chefs learned a few classics of cuisine a la biere, such as carbonnade and easy things such as beer-battered onion rings. Well, I wanted to learn about more than batter, so I've sought out chefs who know and appreciate beer.

As a home beercook, I start with a beer I like, in drinkable condition. I choose cooking techniques that will not destroy the flavors present in the beer since I think brewers design their beers to be sipped, not boiled. Braising, bastes, baking, blanching, brining, broths - these are some of the favorite methods for using beer in the kitchen.

Is a straight one-to-one ratio valid in substituting beer for any other cooking liquid. Well, it depends on the recipe and ingredients. If you are simmering shrimp, then sure - use 100% beer, because you are only cooking the shrimp for 3 minutes or so. But if you are cooking wild rice, you will need to boil it for more than an hour to make it light and fluffy, so you'd best figure a way to add the taste of beer late in the cooking process otherwise, it will become too bitter.

Think about your other ingredients and perhaps consider adding a complementary sweetener to counteract bitterness.

What is a complementary sweetener? Something that has some body and taste! Molasses, honey, malt extract, maple syrup, rice syrup, demerara, roasted root vegetables, oven-dried fruits - all these sweeteners have interesting character. There's even a shagbark hickory syrup that has a woody edge to it, and works very well in barbecue sauces as a result.

Sometimes, you can sweeten just one ingredient in a dish to overcome bitterness. For example, make a salad of baby spinach and gueze vinaigrette taste a bit sweet on the palate by adding a handful of sugared pecans - the caramelized sweetness of the nuts will not mask the flavors of the other ingredients.

Most of all, have fun cooking with beer. It's playful, it's experimental, and as homebrewers you have a ready supply of fine brew. And if it's not perfect, it can become chili, brine for BBQ, or a stew. As one member of the audience pointed out, "Lactic defects in homebrew lend themselves to salad dressings and vinaigrettes." SO, make beer a part of your kitchen repetoire. It's a delicious way to appreciate the flavor of beer. "

From the 2003 AHA Conference, Sweet Homebrew Chicago

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