Beer. For some of us the word conjures up the image of Clydesdales. Others may envision the Rockies. Still others will remember, or attempt to remember, their crazy college years. But for those more culinarily inclined, beer is an ingredient that gives flavor and life to a surprising number of diverse dishes.

Holly’s Own Deli & Restaurant Head Chef Nick Alexander whips up a mustard beer recipe at the Auburn Restaurant. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Beer has existed for more than 5,000 years, way before St. Patrick’s Day. The earliest evidence of beer-making, found at a site in western Iran, dates from between 3500 and 3100 B.C. Evidence of European beer brewing dates as for back as circa 3000 B.C.

Beer was made, consumed by, and written about by ancient Sumerian, Syrian, Chinese, Germanic and Celtic cultures, to name a few. In our own culture, beer has been condemned as a moral vice and hailed as a modern-day ambrosia. Benjamin Franklin famously claimed that “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

But beer can be more than a beverage. With it many styles, flavors and textures, it can effect a wide range of dishes. “When you’re cooking with beer, the end flavor is contingent on the beer you’re going to use,” explained Paul Landry, head chef and owner of Fish Bones American Grill in Lewiston.

Beer is employed in baking, used in marinades and sauces, and even desserts. Landry, at a beer pairing event at his restaurant last week, added “a syrupy stout” to a chocolate sauce being served with cheesecake, to “impart some of those beer flavors,” including chocolate, into the dish.

Part of the versatility of beer as an ingredient is due to its complex flavor profile. “Beer is contrived from grains,” explained Landry, “fermented grains. Those grains are pretty inert, but once you add sugar and yeast, then malt and hops,” you have a rich and complex flavor. And depending on how much of each ingredient is added in the brewing process, beers can vary greatly in taste and texture.


The numerous styles of beer also lend to its versatility. For example, “you can reduce a blueberry wheat ale, or a framboise, and put that reduction over raspberries or blueberries” for a sweet sauce, according to Nick Alexander, head chef at Holly’s Own restaurant in Auburn. He added, “I like to add a brown ale, like Sebago (Brewing Company’s) brown ale, to my stews.”

Alexander has experimented with many beer-based recipes and likes incorporating beer in soups, sauces and condiments. At Holly’s, for example, he uses Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute India Pale Ale to lend sweetness to a spicy mustard. He also makes a barbecue sauce from a Guinness reduction. (See recipes.) “Everybody seems to love it when I make that,” he said.

Landry also encouraged using beer in stews. His Cheddar and Ale Soup uses Baxter Brewing Company’s Stowaway IPA. (See recipe.) At last week’s beer pairing he took it one step further and made bread sticks and pizza dough from “macerated spent grains” from the beer-brewing process.”

“Beer is versatile because it has so many characteristics,” said Dave French, the executive chef at Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub in Auburn.

“Take a stout. We use six different grains in our stout. Some are roasted more, some are more chocolaty . . . and this gives what you’re cooking more body, more depth.”

Despite what some may think, French said, cooking with beer should not be considered modern or trendy. “It’s not. People have been cooking with beer for hundreds of years,” he said. “It’s not that different from using wine in cooking, which is the backbone of French cooking.”


Holly’s Own Deli & Restaurant Head Chef Nick Alexander whips up a mustard beer recipe at the Auburn Restaurant. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At Gritty’s, French said, they use their own Black Fly Stout in many dishes. It constitutes a gravy that pairs with their meatloaf. It is used in both the bread and the vinegar sauce for their bruschetta.

And for those sweet tooths out there, it is reduced and baked into their Black Fly Stout Cake. “You think, it must be really rich,” said French, “but actually the stout cuts the sugar in the chocolate, really letting those cocoa notes come through.”

“For us, it goes back to the cornerstones of what we’re about,” said French.

In Maine, there is no lack of options for the beer enthusiast, whether drinker or cook. As of 2008, Maine ranked fourth in the U.S. for number of breweries per capita, according to the national Brewers Association. In February the state’s newest brewery, Baxter Brewing Co., opened in Lewiston. Baxter beers is now available to the public alongside those from dozens of other Maine microbreweries, as well as larger brewers like Shipyard and Geary’s.

So before St. Patrick’s Day, at which point you’ll inevitably forget, try a few of the local selections, but save a little for dinner . . . making dinner.



90 Minute IPA spicy mustard (From Nick Alexander of Holly’s Own):

1  12-ounce bottle of 90 Minute IPA

2  cups fresh assorted whole mustard seeds (you can mix some darker ones in with the lighter, says Alexander)

1  cup champagne vinegar

1  teaspoon salt

1/4  teaspoon pepper


Soak the mustard seeds overnight in the IPA. After soaking, combine mustard mixture with vinegar, salt and pepper. Separate mixture into two halves. Puree one half until smooth and recombine with the other halve.

Goes great on a black pastrami sandwich, says Alexander.

Guinness Barbecue Sauce (From Nick Alexander of Holly’s Own):

1  medium onion

2-3  cloves of garlic

Vegetable or canola oil


1  12-ounce can of Guinness

2  16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon pepper

Saute onion and crushed garlic cloves in oil. Add Guinness, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-low heat for 6 hours, stirring occasionally. “You can puree it, if you want,” said Alexander, “but I like it chunkier.” You can also add red pepper flakes for some spice, he said. Goes nicely on pork ribs or baked chicken, says Alexander.

Cheddar I.P.A. Soup (From Paul Landry and Chef David Moyse of Fish Bones American Grill)


6 pieces of apple wood smoked bacon, diced

1 leek, sliced and cleaned

1 medium Spanish onion, diced

3 stalks of celery

4 ounces of butter

4 ounces of flour


1 quart chicken stock

8 ounces Stowaway I.P.A. (Baxter Brewing Co.)

8 ounces milk

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper

Place chicken stock, milk and I.P.A. in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Place large stock pot on the stove over medium heat and add bacon. Allow bacon to render out as much fat as possible, then add leek, onion and celery. Sweat vegetables until onions are translucent. Add butter and allow to melt, then add flour and cook on medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add milk, beer and stock mix and whisk on medium heat until soup comes to a boil and is thickened. Blend thickened soup with either a blender or food processor and strain through mesh strainer or China cap.


Once the soup is all blended slowly add cheese, stirring constantly until cheese is all melted into the soup.

Season with salt and pepper and serve with crispy bacon bits or toasted croutons.

Black Fly Stout Cake (From Dave French, executive chef at Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub)

1 cup Black Fly Stout

1 cup butter

2 cup flour


2 cup sugar

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1.5 tablespoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2/3 cup sour cream


2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat butter and stout until the butter is melted. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the hot butter/stout mixture. Add eggs and sour cream. Divide batter into three nine-inch cake pans. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool completely. Melt the chocolate chips with the heavy cream, mix until combined. Chill for 1- 1.5 hours.

Whip the “ganache” until thick and creamy. Frost the cake, including between the layers. Keep in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

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