When cooking with Craft Beer, it is important to remember that these beers will impart their distinct flavors into the finished product, just like good wines do.
If you have done any cooking with the normal American Lagers then you know that even these beers which are lighter in flavor impart a little bit of themselves into the recipes they are used in. Now, imagine the difference that using Craft Beer, with it’s much stronger flavors and varying degrees of higher alcohol content, would make.
Others have been experimenting with beer parings and recipes (I like the Beeroness’ recipes myself), but I wanted to try my hand at and thought I would share the results with you.
I decided to try a little experiment using some different craft beers in a variation of my chili recipe just to see the differences that would make in taste.
For clarities sake, this is not my full blown chili recipe so I will not go into details about the contents but will focus instead about the beers used and the flavors they imparted.
I have one of those 3 pot slow-cookers that you can use to cook multiple dishes at once. So I basically divided my ingredients into three equal portions and split them among the three pots. The only difference between the pots was the beer I used.
I had multiple beers types to choose from in the fridge but decided to limit it to three types, an IPA, a Wheat Beer and a Brown Ale. I also had Pale Ales, Belgians, a Porter and a couple of Stouts to choose from but thought the Pale Ale I had would get buried under the chili spices and the others were to complex for this go-a-round of experimentation.
I selected Blowing Rock IPA, a decent enough IPA from Blowing Rock Brewing; Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, a good example of an American Hefe from Lonerider Brewing Co.; and Bell’s Best Brown Ale, from Bell’s Brewery Inc., which is one of the better brown ales available.
Normally when I make chili I like to serve it with cheese and onions and, depending on the chili, a bit of sour cream. And I like it to be accompanied by corn chips, or homemade rolls or at the very least crackers. For this I did without the sour cream, chips, rolls and crackers, though I did keep the cheese. Even so it was a mild shredded cheddar. I wanted it to balance out the heat I cook into chili.
First up was the IPA Chili. I could smell hints of citrus in the chili and tasted it slightly as well. I could taste the other ingredients of the chili but it was damped down a lit bit making it just an ok dish. The IPA accompanying it tasted just like an IPA should. I think this showed that when serving an IPA based dish an IPA goes best with it.
The second bowl featured the Hefeweizen beer. The wheat flavor of the beer seemed to enhance the spices. It also gave it a hint of crackers in the chili which surprised me but then after thinking about it shouldn’t have. The sample of the Shotgun Betty I sampled with it pared well with the chili and enhanced the flavors even more.
The third bowl featured the Brown Ale in the chili. The brown ale flavor seemed to add a little sweetness to the chili but didn’t dampen the heat of the it. The beer itself tasted a little bitter at first. But after I sampled more chili and more beer the bitterness faded.
I decided to take one more sampling gambit and combined all three chilis into one bowl, then pared each of the beer samples with the combined chili. The blended chili actually tasted the best out of all the samples. As far as the parings went, the IPA tasted bitter, more so than before and did not go well with the blend. The cracker taste of the wheat chili was gone with the blend but the wheat still brought out the heat in the chili. And the brown brought out a sweet aftertaste with the chili.
This little experiment in chili was not only interesting but tasty. I was expecting the IPA to add a little bitterness, which it did, But when pared with itself for drinking it tasted just fine in the chili. I did not expect the cracker flavor from the wheat beer chili but I did think it would pare well with chili. The brown surprised me with the sweetness it brought to the chili as I never really thought of a brown ale as a sweet flavor.
And I was definitely surprised that the blended chili tasted better than any of three individual chilis. Though I liked all three I preferred the Wheat and the Brown. Not sure if I could pick one over the other as I liked them both and the ales brought out different aspects of the chili that I liked.
I will definitely be trying more experimentations with beer cooking down the road and will share the results with you.