Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Oct 14, 2013
08:33 AM
Small Dishes

Beer on My Plate

Beer on My Plate

I’m not much of a beer drinker. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just that there are things I like drinking better. Perhaps it was my stint as a student abroad, especially in Germany, Belgium and England where as good as it was I got my fill. I admit my attraction then had probably more to do with price than the excellent quality. However, when it comes to cooking with beer my enthusiasm is effervescent.

Like wine, beer adds flavor since it’s made from grains, hops, malt and yeast. It’s even more versatile since it can be used in baking and even candy making. In Wisconsin, bratwurst steamed in beer obviously comes to mind, a cooking technique introduced along with the sausage by German immigrants. 

In Belgium where they make some of the best beer out of anything and everything carbonnade flamande rivals beef bourguignon’s popularity in France. The beef and stew is made with Oud Bruin (old brown) a traditional dark Flemish beer that gives the dish its distinctive sweet and sour tang.

Welsh rarebit is an iconic English dish of savory cheese sauce served over toast, properly enhanced with ale. Irish stew originally was inevitably made with lamb, or even more likely, mutton. In modern times a version has evolved made with beef and Guinness stout, the Island’s favorite tipple.

The cult of barbecue in this country quickly embraced the merits of beer as ingredient in marinades, mops and sauces, especially for beef brisket. However, one of the most peculiar yet popular uses is to make smoked or grilled chicken. Dubbed “beer can chicken,” “beer butt chicken,” or “chicken on a throne;” the cavity of a whole chicken is ensconced on top of a can half full of beer with the top cut off.  Cooked vertically—whether using smoker, grill or oven—the result is incredibly tender and juicy.

Why beer-battered seafood and vegetables are so successful is more a matter of chemistry than taste. Beer adds carbon dioxide which causes the breading to froth up when it hits the hot oil, resulting in a crispy crunch. Foaming keeps fat from being absorbed by the food beneath the breading. Since alcohol evaporates must faster than milk or water, the breading cooks more rapidly, reducing the risk of overcooking the food.

Considering what it’s made from, it’s no surprise that beer would be added to bread, but it not only enhances flavor, but texture as well. Beer works well in many desserts, especially those that benefit from its malty character. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t need milk to make pancakes if you’ve got lager. One of my seasonal favorites is pumpkin muffins made with pumpkin ale (recipe follows). There is actually a whole blog about—as the label states—Beer and Baking.

Best of all, there are lots of places in Madison where you can drink your beer and eat it, too!

A daily special at Gates & Brovi is the steamed-in-beer, peel-and-eat shrimp, served with cocktail sauce and sold by the half pound.

No one does fried foods better than the The Old Fashioned and its award-winning, beer-battered cheese curds and beer-battered walleye are exemplary.

For those who prefer fat onion rings to the thin strings, Tipsy Cow is the place to go. Here the batter is doused with Spotted Cow. Also, among its copious variety of fries are beer-battered fried potatoes.

Sugar Brook Farms in conjunction with Capital Brewery produces two different cheddar cheese spreads, one with Wisconsin Amber and the other with Island Wheat. They’re available at several food stores around the area including Hy-Vee Madison #1 and #2, Metcalfe’s, Miller & Sons Supermarkets, and Capital Center Market.

At Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. individual loaves of house-made beer bread served with honey and a crock of brown ale onion soup topped with gooey Swiss cheese are satisfying savory snacks.

Food is not afterthought at one of the city’s newest micro breweries, Next Door Brewing Company. Especially appealing is the warm spinach salad with pickled shallots and chevre, finished with a dressing made with a house brew and bacon.

At Quivey’s Grove the Beef Lathrop is a homey casserole of boneless short ribs braised in dark beer perfectly paired with mashed potatoes and root vegetables.

Not surprisingly, a staple at Brocach is the Irish stew made with both lamb and beef simmered in a rich and hearty Guinness stout-laced gravy.

As part of its annual observance of Octoberfest, Daisy Café & Cupcakery presents half a dozen different flavored cupcakes all concocted with several beer made less than four miles from the restaurant!

Calliope is known for its delightfully eccentric flavors of ice cream, including two made with beer: House of Brews Stout and Lake Louie Tommy’s Porter. It’s available at several restaurants as well as food retailers including Jenifer Street Market, Metcalfe’s Hilldale, and Fresh Madison Market (a complete list is on its webpage including the currently available flavors).

Everything Becky’s Blissful Bakery in Pewaukee makes is 100 percent organic including the addictive salted beer and pretzel caramels, made with Lakefront Brewery’s E.S.B. beer. (They are available by mail order here.)

RECIPE: Pumpkin Ale Muffins with Walnut Crumb Topping



3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts


In the bowl of the food processor, combine all the ingredients, turning the machine on and off until the mixture forms crumbs.  Set aside while making the muffins.



12 paper muffin cup liners
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
11/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
2/3 cup pumpkin ale*, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, allspice, nutmeg and ginger.

In a medium bowl stir together the pumpkin puree, pumpkin ale, eggs, melted butter, oil and vanilla.

Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup until about 3/4th full. Sprinkle each muffin with about 2 tablespoons of the reserved topping mixture. Bake in the preheat 350-oven for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester or tooth pick comes out clean when inserted into a muffin.  Cool slightly and serve warm.

Makes twelve muffins.

*Locally brewed seasonally is Capital Brewery’s Pumpkinataur

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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