Australians have certainly mastered the art of drinking beer, but have you experimented with cooking with beer?

Cooking with beer is not generally the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about marinades, stocks and sauces; in general, when we think about cooking with alcohol, we reach for a bottle of wine.

However, cooking with beer is almost as old as drinking it, dating back to 3400 BC, and is still very popular today in Belgium, Ireland and the United States.

Beer itself can have many different flavours, often featuring notes of herbs and spices added by the hops and other botanical ingredients, making it an ideal accompaniment to many dishes. Beer is also a rich source of nutrients including magnesium, potassium and B vitamins and, when consumed in moderation, can help to decrease the risk of heart disease.

As varieties of beer can be so diverse, choosing which beer to cook with really depends on the dish, much in the same way as when cooking with wine. In general, lighter beers work with lighter dishes and darker ales go with more hearty, robust fare.

The trick is to remember that the beer’s flavour will get more intense as the alcohol reduces and can sometimes become more bitter. If you’re preparing a dish that will need to cook for more than an hour, look at using a dark beer or a stout. However, not to worry if your dish does become too bitter or beery – just add a sweeter flavour to help balance it out, such as sugar or honey.

You may already be familiar with a few recipes that use beer. Beer batter uses beer to carbonate the batter, making it more of a light tempura style that crisps up beautifully. Steak and Ale Pie is another pub classic, where dark ale is used to create a rich gravy.

However, beer can be used as a substitute pretty much anytime a cooking liquid is used. In Belgium, it is a popular substitute to stock in stews, mixed into soups, or to steam mussels instead of white wine. Beer also makes a fantastic natural meat tenderizer and a beautiful marinade mixed with sugar, mustard and tomato sauce. Another interesting use for beer is in baked goods. The yeast qualities in beer mean that it can be used as a raising agent in bread and other doughs.

So next time you reach for the cooking wine, consider giving beer a go instead! It’s a lot easier and more versatile than you might think, just remember the golden rule – never cook with a beer that you wouldn’t drink!

 Images from The Candid Appetite and Donna Hay