As I have been progressing through my classes, I have been keeping a look-out for various ways to integrate beer with classic techniques. I strongly subscribe to the point of view that beer and beer by-products are prepared items, which should be considered for use as a tool for flavor, much like wine or tomato puree. Of course its use must still be discretionary, as it has various unique properties that will present themselves through trial and error. Having made the beer yourself will of course give you more intimate knowledge of its flavor profile and some understanding of its chemical makeup. Here are some things to keep in mind when cooking with beer and wort.
- Do you want to eat sediment? Be conscious of whether or not the finished beer you’re cooking with is bottle conditioned. But it is a good way to get your vitamins!
- Bitter beer face! You may like the bitterness of an IPA in your glass, but as you reduce its volume in cooking, its bitterness level soars since it becomes concentrated. Either use the sweetest beers you can find, or consider the use of unhopped, unfermented sweet wort. If you don’t brew, ask you friendly neighborhood homebrewer or brewpub.
- Saccharific! If you do use wort, keep in mind that it contains all the sugar that would be fermented into alcohol (lots of maltose). It’s a different kind of sweetness than what you may be used to, and the flavor is altogether quite different than finished beer, so be sure to taste. Approximately three quarters of wort’s weight is fermentable sugar. This high percentage of sugar makes wort great for syrup – just reduce it until it becomes thick. After all, that’s what malt extract is. Finished beer will also have unfermented sugars (‘body’), but obviously in much less concentration.
- Wort gone wild! Since wort is made up of so much fermentable sugar, it is ideal for fermentation. This is good and bad. Why it’s bad is very simple: if you collected your wort from the mash dregs (before the boil), the liquid is not even pasteurized and it will spoil/ferment very easily from wild yeast. Store in your fridge immediately or freeze. On the other hand if your wort came from the boil kettle dregs, it will have a longer shelf life, but it has been bittered by hops – so that’s a concern. Of course this fermentation can be used for good: bread baking, fermented batters, etc. Of course, unless you’re cultivating sourdough or your own strains of brewing yeast , I would stick to packaged yeasts.
I will explore these various facets of cooking with beer/wort through future posts – stay tuned for more recipes, tips, and pictures.