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Not just for drinking: Cooking with craft beer

Friday - 11/8/2013, 7:41am  ET

John Holl's new cookbook puts the brew in the stew ... And other dishes. (Courtesy John Holl)

WASHINGTON - If you thought craft beer was just for drinking, John Holl is out to prove you wrong. And his countless hours of research and experience are more than enough to back up his argument.

"There was a lot of recycling that came out of my house by going through all of the different beers -- and some pretty groggy mornings," says Holl, who visited more than 900 breweries around the world while writing his new book, The American Craft Beer Cookbook.

But he says his motive behind the drinking was all for the food.

"We're living in such a cool age of local beer and local food," Holl says.

He says his book, which has 155 recipes, tells the story of where the country is on both fronts. It focuses on food traditions specific to regions and recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

And as for the beer? It's either in Holl's recipes, or paired with the food.

"The first thing I did was start looking at a map and I started to think about how different food impacts different regions, and then I started reaching out to breweries that I know and trust," says Holl, who also asked friends for recipe recommendations.

"When the recipes started coming in, I just started trying new beers (in the recipes)."

Currently, the U.S. is home to about 2,800 breweries, many of which are craft.

"Most of (these breweries) are turning out really flavorful beers and a whole number of styles. So the fun challenge was actually trying different styles with different recipes to really find a pairing that just sang," Holl says.

When thinking about pairing beer with food, Holl says it's important to consider the four main ingredients that make up beer: water, malt, hops and yeast.

Depending on the make-up of the beer and the ratios/flavor profiles, you can begin to match the beverage to a food dish and select a beer that will either taste best in a recipe, or alongside it.

Holl says malt typically has hints of fresh bread, coffee or chocolate, while hops have notes of citrus or pine. The flavors of yeast, on the other hand, can range anywhere between banana and clove, to bubblegum.

"When you start thinking about the individual ingredients and their individual flavors, then you can really start thinking about, ‘How can this pair really well with the steak that I have on my plate?'"

And Holl says that steak will most likely pair beautifully with a porter -- but only if the steak is plain.

"If you add a blue cheese or a gorgonzola to the top of that steak, the porter is not going to work anymore, so you need a beer like an India Pale Ale that has citrus or pine to really kind of cut through that cheese and that strong cheese flavor," Holl says.

One way to play around with food and beer pairings is to host a beer-pairing dinner. Holl suggests selecting a recipe and assigning your guests to bring a beer they think might best go with dinner.

"There isn't really one particular beer style (that goes with most dishes). The fun part is experimenting and trying different beers and finding what works and what doesn't with particular foods," Holl says.

Holl, a self-proclaimed fan of eating both seasonally and locally, says one recipe he's been making a lot is IPA wings. For the dish, he marinates chicken wings in a Loose Cannon IPA, a Baltimore-based beer, along with other citrus. Then, he throws the wings on the grill to enjoy with friends on Sundays.

"It's a fun way of trying new beers and explore with friends as this beer world continues to just grow and expand," Holl says.

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