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3 Cheers for Beer

3 Cheers for Beer

Cooking with wine may be common practice, but many cooks overlook the flavor-enhancing potential of beer in all its myriad varieties. Lagers, pilsners, pale ales, brown ales, stouts—each offers a distinctive blend of grains, yeast, water, and flavorings, and can be used in recipes for results that range from subtle to surprising. Add a splash of dark beer to a black bean chili, and you'll create a Southwestern stew with rich, almost meaty undertones. Simmer a fruity ale down to a syrup and you'll have a salad dressing ingredient that rivals aged balsamic vinegar. Bake a cake with stout and you'll see why beer aficionados often refer to the brew's flavor as "chocolaty."

To get you started, we've put together a selection of recipes that showcase all the possibilities beer has to offer. Try them, and before you know it, you'll be popping the top of a can or bottle of beer as often as you pull open a wine cork when cooking.

Is Your Brew Veg?

What prevents a beer from being 100 percent veg? It's the filtering process used to clarify the fermented liquid into a clear, drinkable beverage.

Different agents are used to clarify beer, including isinglass (extracted from fish) and gelatin. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly beers are clarified with seaweed extract (carrageenan or Irish moss) or by using an artificial substance called Polyclar.

These sites offer information on animal-derived ingredients used to make beer, how various beer brands are made, or if they are vegan or vegetarian: beeradvocate.com; barnivore.com; veganconnection.com/veganbeer.htm.

A Cook's Guide to Beer

Lager Light, crisp, and dry, this basic brew can be used in place of white wine to deglaze sautés or replace broth in a sauce.

Pilsner Slightly sweet and yeasty, pilsner is an all-purpose brew for cooking.

Dark Ale Added to hearty stews and sauces, this caramel-colored, fruity beverage lends rich, meaty flavor.

Pale Ale The bittersweet flavor of pale ale tames the pungent flavors of cabbage and leafy greens.

Porter This strong, dark ale is particularly good with egg and cheese dishes.

Stout The darkest of dark ales is sweet and rich—an ideal addition to desserts and dessert sauces.

Fruit Beers or Ales These flavor-infused brews can add a hint of fruit to sauces, stews, and braised dishes.