From Stein to Stovetop

Cooking with local beer

By Helen Dennis

South Carolina is well known for its culinary traditions of rich comfort foods and fresh seafood, but the state is also becoming known for its home-to-craft breweries. Now these two hallmarks of Carolina culture have come together.

River Rat Brewery on Shop Road drums up images of the three rivers that flow through the heart of Columbia. Near the beloved Williams Brice Stadium, Conquest Brewing Company serves pints of Garnet Ale, while right around the corner Swamp Cabbage Brewery enables Columbia’s beer and brunch habit on Sunday mornings. North Main Street is preparing to welcome its first brewery, Cotton Town Brew Lab, and Hunter-Gatherer Brewpub on Main Street recently opened a second location on Rosewood. Hunter-Gatherer is additionally known for its beer-infused edibles, such as its unique appetizer of Prince Edward Island Mussels steamed in a house-made citrusy pale ale, while River Rat offers a zesty IPA queso served on its house nachos, among other beer-influenced bites.

Cooking with beer is an age-old practice, but not everyone is comfortable with it at home. Those who grew up boiling Lowcountry shrimp in beer perhaps only more recently have heard of chocolate cakes made with rich, dark beers. Whether this culinary trick is news or a long-held secret ingredient to a family recipe, cooking with Columbia’s local beers adds an extra flair.

Considering the wide varieties of beer, this ingredient can be intimidating to introduce to cooking, especially in classic recipes. Hunter- Gatherer chef Melinda Oliver has plenty of experience cooking with beer and believes that it is well worth the extra effort. “Beers can be used for everything from marinades to mousses, sweet or savory. Whether it’s prepared in a stew or a syrup, there’s a heartiness and depth of flavor that just can’t be beat,” she says. “Every beer brings a different experience and flavor profile to the table, and the way it’s prepared makes it even more diverse. Each blooms and creates something new depending on the way it’s handled and the ingredients with which it’s paired.”

There is not a strict set of rules for cooking with beer, but when incorporating it into the oven or stovetop, keep a few tricks in mind. Reading the labels and descriptions of various beers assists in pairing the right beer with the right dish. Look for flavors that go well together. For example, Conquest Brewery’s Sacred Heart IPA, which boasts a tropical, pineapple flavor, might not be suited for a hearty winter stew. However, Medusa Stout with chocolate malt and roasted barley would balance acidic tomatoes and tenderize the beef in such a dish.

Remember that just as in drinking, darker beers have a more pungent flavor. That dark flavor will be enhanced through cooking, while the flavor of a lighter beer may take a back seat to the more pronounced flavors in a particular dish.

If ordering from a small brewery that does not distribute, perhaps the best people to ask about adding beer to recipes are the brewmasters themselves. Talk to the folks behind the bar for descriptions of their beer before filling up a growler with which to cook. Chef Rob Schiller at River Rat Brewery shares a few favorite recipes using its beers.


Beer Queso

This spicy queso, featured on River Rat’s Taproom Nachos, makes a decadent appetizer when served with chips, but can easily be used as a sauce in macaroni and cheese or served on tacos.


2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

2 tablespoons flour

4 ounces 803 IPA

4 ounces milk

1 pound pepper jack cheese, shredded

In medium saucepan over medium heat melt butter, then work in flour. Remove from heat, and slowly work in milk and 803 IPA until smooth. Return to heat. When warm, add cheese one handful at a time, whisking in until smooth. Once the cheese is all melted, serve with chips or work into other recipes.

Hazelnut Brown Beer Shake

Sweet and simple, this shake is the ultimate adult treat that still brings out the inner child.


2 scoops vanilla ice cream

1/3 can Hazelnut Brown Ale

In blender, add 2 scoops ice cream and beer. Blend until smooth. Serve in a tall, chilled glass.


Kolsch Cabbage

2 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 to 3 pounds green cabbage, shredded

1 cup American Kolsch Story

1 cup water

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 apple, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

In large pot, heat oil; add sugar and chopped onion. Lightly brown. Add cabbage and lightly brown. Stir in American Kolsch Story and water. Add pepper and diced apples. Bring to boil, lower heat to simmer, and cover. Cook about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add more water so the pot contains at least 1 inch of liquid. When cabbage is tender, season with salt and vinegar. Serve with bratwurst or corned beef.


Prince Edward Island Mussels

These Prince Edward Island Mussels, recipe provided by Hunter-Gatherer, take a dance around the pan with pale ale and chorizo. Use some garlic bread to soak up the delicious sauce in the bottom of the pan.


1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

6 slices of chorizo (approximately 2 to 3 ounces)

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon roasted garlic pepper

1 tablespoon blackened seasoning

Pinch of salt

1 ounce white wine

1 ounce vegetable stock

1/2 cup Hunter-Gatherer Pale Ale

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

12 to 16 cleaned mussels (2 handfuls)

In a hot saute pan, combine shallots, celery, chorizo, garlic, and seasoning. Saute for 1 minute. As soon as the vegetables begin to sear, add white wine. Then add the mussels and toss. Pour in pale ale. Give it another toss. Add vegetable stock and butter. Cover the pan, turn heat down to medium, and simmer for approximately 3 minutes or until mussels open. Serve hot with grilled garlic bread.

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