Of Venison, Bacon And Beer – Beans Optional

White-tailed_deerThis is an English recipe, published in the English newspaper the Guardian a few years ago, for venison cooked with beer.

It is interesting to compare it to the Canadian recipes I mentioned in my posts of yesterday (here and here).

They are all very similar except Lorraine Boisvenue’s recipe, recorded in 1979, uses no sweetening. To be sure, the Guardian’s recipe uses no beans, but beans and bacon is an old English dish – well preceding the Boston and other American versions, indeed clearly inspiring them. This 1803 recipe from Hannah Glasse shows the recipe goes back a long way in England, and Glasse didn’t get it from Boston, that much is clear. One can foresee some people in England would have added feathered or furred game to the bean pot, if they had it, to eke out the bacon or salt pork.

I have seen other English recipes for venison with beer, and they almost always involve a sweet element. Most beer cookery does, in fact, and for good reason.

Perhaps the Canadian recipe has British origins way back, although sugar or syrups, and before that dried fruit, have been used in northern French and Belgian meat recipes for a long time.

Maybe this type of preparation emerged independently in various areas where the ingredients were ready to hand.

In this Toronto blogger’s entry of July 5, 2015, a further Jehane Benoit recipe for beans and game appears, from a magazine article she wrote in the early 1960s. In this case, she did evince a historical interest, and searched old books for inspiration relating to “Upper Canada” (Ontario).  The recipe is very similar to the Chevreuil des Guides I discussed earlier, except a wild bird, or if need be stewing hen, is used instead of deer meat, and for soaking and simmering just water, no beer.

Of course, the mix of stock/water/beer/wine/cider etc. would vary depending on availability and personal preference. This particular recipe suggests to me again a possible English origin for this dish, at least as known in Canada, since Mme Benoit refers to Upper Canadians having prepared it. They were generally of British background in the period mentioned, the later 1800s.

That little group of recipes is very interesting as even in Victorian English Canada one can discern Amerindian influences, e.g., the use of corn husks in which to roast fish, and old French influence, namely for the pot au feu recipe given.

Canadian cooking has been a melange for a long time.

If anyone is curious what Mme Benoit was like on tv, this early 1960’s clip from an old CBC show, Take 30, will tell you. The meat dish demonstrated is a loin of back bacon, a cured but not smoked cut of lean pork, cooked with a “glassful” of brandy. Here that’s a cup, maybe. 🙂 Mme Benoit’s roots and culinary inspirations de base were solidly French and no better evidence than this charming clip.


Note re image used: the image above is in the public domain, and was sourced here.

Jehane Benoit – Canada’s Greatest Food Authority

And her Recipe for Beans, Deer and Beer

The doyenne of Quebec and Canadian cookery will always be Jehane Benoit (1904-1987), whose career spanned the 1930s through the 70s. The lady was thoroughly French Canadian, from a privileged background, yet a bridge-builder to Anglo-Canada. She became almost as well known in that world as in Quebec. She was open to every influence in cookery in her time.

From running a vegetarian restaurant in the 1930s to adopting enthusiastically the microwave in the 1970s, she was for anything that could make a tasty and nutritious meal and save time. She wrote many books, wrote for magazines, and appeared on radio and tv. She was “the” personage in cookery and culinary education of her day. She was certainly equal to Julia Child in her influence, in Canada at that time.

She studied at the Cordon Bleu in France before the war and held advanced qualifications from the Sorbonne in food chemistry. This “double” interest, gastronomy and food science, combined with her engaging personality – not to mention her industry – were the keys to her success.

As an example of her ‘cookery without frontiers’ approach, in a day when interest in ethnic foods was tentative and guarded, many ethnic and foreign recipes were included in Madame Benoit’s Library Of Canadian Cooking (Les Messageries du St. Laurent Ltée, 1972). “Canadian” fare, for most at the time, meant American, British, French, or French Canadian dishes. In addition to recipes from those traditions she featured Polish meat balls, meat sauce for spaghetti, Greek-style barbecued lamb with mint, chow mein, and hundreds more recipes brought to Canada by what were then called New Canadians.

My eyebrows raised when she wrote – this is 1972, but possibly earlier – that she often made liver specifically to cook with baked noodles in the Jewish fashion. She was referring to kugel with nodes of cooked liver in it, popular among my crowd in Montreal in that period anyway.

She was certainly a smoked meat maven and a souvlaki maven and a chow mein Cantonese maven – if it was good and interesting, she was in.

In Vol. 2 of the series, a heading reads New Ways With Chicken. Rather than complain “advanced methods to raise chicken” resulted in tasteless birds and suggest people buy free-range, which only a tiny percentage could afford, she lauded the advances of our food industries, noting birds were now sold “plucked, drawn and dressed ready for cooking”.

She was all too aware, without doubt, that ménagères for generations had the hard work of raising, killing and dressing birds before they could be cooked for the table. She didn’t want to go back to that time, and who could blame her?

If there was some trade-off in flavour compared to the old days, she didn’t complain. She advised brightly, “Add your own personal ‘zing’ to the following recipes and you will be responsible for the creation of another variation – to me this is the great challenge of cooking”. 

Mme Benoit would be amazed and delighted to work in our wired world, where almost any recipe is available at a keystroke. She would enjoy keeping in touch with her fans via Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and other social media. She would be perfect for our time, as she was for hers.

Indeed, she presaged our time. The Olivers, Rays, and other celebrity chefs follow no less in her footsteps than Julia Child, James Beard, Elizabeth David, and and Graham Kerr.

They all set the tone for the modern food scene.

Mme Benoit was, I should add, always proud of her Québécoise heritage, and her writing contains many recipes from this tradition. Needless to say, their authenticity is of the highest. This rustic preparation of beans, ale, and venison evokes the simmering iron pot on open fire under a star-lit northern sky. Perhaps she knew the dish from youthful camping trips, or fishing trips up north with her husband later.




The recipe has few ingredients, easy to carry in by float plane or small boat. Originally the deer would have been sourced sur le champ. The savory (sarriette) is a typical Quebec touch. We see too the old-fashioned dollop of molasses. Some old English recipes for venison combine molasses with beer. Maybe the dish to which she gave a French title was of distant British inspiration. It doesn’t matter either way.

Rarely did Mme Benoit include historical notes or offer entertaining asides in her writing. I don’t think it was from lack of interest. More likely she had so many recipes to convey, so many ideas on how to improve daily living, that little space was available. Had she lived longer, maybe she would have addressed the historical roots of Quebec cuisine

Or maybe her answer would have been a blithe, peu importe, who cares, just enjoy it! Et voilà.

Quebec Cuisine Including A Few Beer Dishes

a103073First, I’d like to make some remarks about Quebec (French Canadian) cuisine in general, I grew up in Montreal and by the 70s (I had left in ’83) was starting to taste the foods outside the Jewish-Canadian orbit of my youth. One day I should – will – write about that tradition too, as, apart from being my own, the Montreal Jewish kitchen was non-pareil anywhere in the world. For another day.

I suppose as for our foods, famously bagels and corned beef/smoked meat, it’s only the most prominent foods which the larger society notices. The deeper couches, to keep with the French vein, remain known only to insiders so to speak, les initiés. So it is with the foods of the Québécois people. Unless one had experience close to a French community when growing up, in a social sense I mean, the true traditions of Quebec cuisine were only known to their practitioners.

Even in the 1960s though, most people in Quebec, whatever the social background, knew that pork-based tourtière was a famous Quebec dish (une tourte in France). It was probably the same for fèves au lard, the sweet-edged Quebec bean dish. Cretons, a pale, spiced meat spread similar to France’s rillettes, was known by many too in Montreal, as breakfast menus used to feature it as an alternative to bacon or ham. I’ve mentioned Quebec spruce beer in an earlier posting. In the patisserie area, Quebec’s excellent sugar pie – la tarte au sucre – also had fans amongst Quebeckers of all stripes.


Beyond these, the Americanized fast food such as patates frites and later poutine, and hot dogs vapeur (steamed) or “Michigan”, were, for most native English speakers, the face of Quebec cuisine. This was unfortunate as Quebec families for centuries had evolved a repertoire of savoury dishes using the full range of ingredients: meat, fish, eggs, cereals, vegetables, maple and brown sugar. This was real food, in other words. This tradition, before the era of air conditioning and refrigerators, also featured a “summer cuisine” with many distinctive, lighter dishes. As well, Quebec is a very large province of Canada and many foods evolved as regional specialties. Even “national” dishes such as tourtière had particular features depending on which part of Quebec you came from.

One needs to read a book like Lorraine Boisvenue’s Le Guide De La Cuisine Traditionelle Québécoise (Stanké, 1979) to understand the full range of dishes in the French Quebec community at large. The book has sections on soups (some 60 including fish soups), charcuterie, lamb, beef, veal, pork, ham, chicken, turkey and numerous other fowl, tourtières and pains de viande, fish and seafood, game, eggs, vegetables, salads, puddings, pastries, pies and beignets. There is yet more, extending to home-brewing and distilling. It is very clear from the objectives explained in her introduction that the dishes are solidly of tradition, not worked up to write a book that is. They were drawn from a family’s cuisine handed down in the maternal line, either her own or that of friends who suggested the dishes to her. It is a cuisine of oral tradition as she does not rely on earlier published sources for recipes – she didn’t need to.









Amongst its many interesting features, certain herbs were characteristic of Quebec cuisine, especially savory (sarriette) but also a preparation called herbes salés whose roots go back to the first French settlersQuebec’s gelées, usually a fruit and sugar conserve served cold, are notable too and resemble the Portuguese marmelada. The bouillis need notice too, similar to the pots au feu of France.

With the urbanization and modernization of Quebec society in the 1950s and 60s which have only accelerated since – what was called la révolution tranquille – this culinary tradition, itself an amalgam of old French, British, American and some aboriginal influences, started to disappear. In the cities, people ate a diet similar to most Canadians. This was influenced by industrialized food production and distribution, various American trends including its franchise food systems, and the newer ethnic cuisines introduced by Italian, Greek, Chinese and Jewish Quebeckers. Since the 1980s, in common with many parts of the world, Quebec chefs and restaurants have sought to fuse some of these traditions or create their own freewheeling gastronomies. This has further obscured what belonged uniquely to French Canadians as their own.

No one knew this future better than Ms. Boisvenue. She concludes her introduction with this statement: “Nous ne saurons peut-être pas apprendre à nos petits-enfants les gestes de nos grand-mères; saurons-nous au moins les raconter…” (We likely won’t be able to teach our grandchildren our grandmothers’ ways with food; but at least we can tell them what existed…).

6419926811_55eeb22168_bSince I was talking earlier this week about the use of beer in France’s far northern belt stretching from Dunkirk to Strasbourg, what of beer-and-food in another northern francophone belt, Quebec? The use of beer goes back to Quebec’s earliest days, well-before the British took over the province in the 1770s. One might expect there to be a broad range of beer dishes given that wine was never grown in Quebec. In fact this is not so but we first must make a crucial distinction. If we are talking about the new food world since the 1980s, one could say there is a developing beer cuisine in Quebec. Numerous books (I have one or two) have been written to extend Quebec gastronomy by including beer in everything from soup to nuts.

These books take inspiration from Belgian traditions, say, or the writer’s own ideas, and are no less valid for that, but this doesn’t mean the dishes explained have an age-old ancestry. Sometimes this is obvious, e.g., spaghetti sauce with beer, in other cases less so, but if you know Quebec’s food history reasonably well, you can usually tell the difference.

From what I have been able to tell, only a handful of dishes existed which used beer. As to why this is so, it is hard to say. Since Quebec grew no grapes once again, why not use beer in a broad range of dishes? I think the reasons are, first, unlike northern France, Quebec never had thousands of very small breweries. It had comparatively only a few, generally in the larger centres (eg. Montreal, Quebec City, Trois Rivières, Sherbrooke). Second, Quebec was never the most prosperous part of Canada, and I suspect when beer could be purchased, it was used to drink, not cook with. Third, Quebec had and still does a tradition of fermenting apples, inherited from their Norman ancestors. Cider features more than beer in some of its traditional foods.

Despite this, a few beer dishes exist. Ms. Boisvenue gives a recipes for pork stew and beer which involves the meat, garlic, onion, potato, cabbage and apples, brown sugar, clove and dry mustard. Her ham boiled in beer and molasses has an old English ring to my ears, maybe a Yorkshire soldier who mustered out after the British took Quebec married a Canadienne and introduced it to her family…

The great Quebec cookery writer, Jehane Benoit, has a few beer recipes in her extensive publications. There is one with game, beans and “pale ale”. In fact, Lorraine Boisvenue has a similar one, it calls for two pounds of deer, 3/4 lb salt pork, 4 cups beans, a quart of beer, carrot, onion, dry mustard, savory, pepper and salt. This one has no sweetening added, but I think Jehane Benoit’s did (can’t find that book at the moment). Most of the bean dishes in Ms. Boisvenue’s book in fact are sweetened, and there is an ardent debate in Quebec culinary circles whether Boston baked beans are really at the bottom of the famous Quebec fèves au lard, but it doesn’t really matter, the dish is so old it has acquired its Quebec garland of authenticity. Same thing for la cipaille, which probably comes from the English sea pie, which, despite its name, was a meat dish, but one cooked at sea.

Probably sailors brought it to the Montreal and Quebec ports, but who knows? Here is a young Quebec chef’s version: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/cipaille-meat-pies-on-d-is-for-dinner-1.3378571. Ms. Foucault speaks lightly of how the dish is constructed (not of its taste, but how you make it). This ties into Lorraine Boisvenue’s statement that the various words for the dish – the different spellings – don’t correspond to any regional identification, rather all spellings and variations in the recipes attest that each mère de famille had her own version.

Well, as a Quebec native albeit non-resident for 30 years, I offer my notional version: I’ll use Ms. Boisvenue’s “grandmother’s” recipe as the base. It calls for not less than beef, veal, pork, deer or moose, chicken, partridge, hare and salt pork, amongst numerous vegetables and seasoning. Got that? Then, I’ll replace part of her bouillon (stock) addition with beer. Which beer? Any one. Ms. Foucault is right, after many hours slow baking, cipaille will meld into a glorious whole. Molson Export Ale, Creemore Lager, Fuller’s London Pride, Orval Trappist … it will taste great regardless.


Note re images used: The first image above is entitled Quebec, Winter Scene, ca. 1872 and was sourced from Library and Archives Canada/L.P. Vallée/PA-103073, here. The second image was sourced from this Quebec tourism site.  The third image, of Set. Agathe-des-Monts in the 1950’s, was sourced at the A Canadian Family webpage, here. The fourth image was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto, here. Ownership therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Beer and its Cuisine Have no Borders in France


(Note: Map is copyright of and reproduced with the kind authority of the travel website www.about-france.com)


In previous posts I discussed beer cookery in Nord-Pas-de-Calais (aka Hauts-de-France), Alsace, and Lorraine in France. We can spot these areas on the map above. Below Picardy is Isle de France, so Paris and its hinterland.

Immediately noticeable are the adjoining provinces of Champagne, Picardy, and the northern section of Normandy. Champagne, for its part, is really two regions: Champagne proper and the Ardenne, French counterpart to the wooded Belgian Ardennes.

French Ardenne is also forested and largely rural, a hunting area. Its gastronomy is noted for game, hams, and pâtés but beer and brewing also figure. Champagne-Ardenne had more breweries than Lorraine in the late 1800s, over 300. It is no surprise therefore to find, say, Soupe à la Bière de Mézières in Recueil de la Gastronomie Champenoise et Ardennaise, Annick and Patrick Demouy (Editions S.A.E.P., 1983).

This soup uses blonde beer, onions, butter, and garlic – no cream, eggs, brown sugar or hard alcohol as in some French beer soups of other regions. It is a lean, spare version, as suits a handsome yet austere land. The recipe calls for serving it with toasted bread and grated Gruyère.




[Attribution: By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

As in many countries where boundaries are fluid for commercial and other reasons, culinary traditions blend imperceptibly. Picardy has beer dishes influenced by French Flanders. Ninette Lyon, a learned French food writer of the 1960s-1980s, noted a Flanders “perfume” in some Picardy cooking.

Rabbit with prunes, leek tart, and dishes seasoned with brown sugar can be cited as examples. In each beer is sometimes is used. Picardy also had a brewing industry in the past, echoed in recent years by the resurgence of craft brewing.

The coastal region between Boulogne and Dunkerque, or littoral of Picardy and French Flanders, has its own beer dishes. Many are based on fish and crustaceans. Haddock, meaning the fish salted and smoked, is bathed in beer to freshen and flavour it. Smoked herring is sometimes treated similarly.

One recipe blends beer, white wine and the local gin with celery root, cauliflower, onion, shallot, and tomato. (The French North is a vegetable larder). This is served lukewarm (tiède), a kind of northern ratatouille. Boozy, yes, but northerners like it that way. They spike their coffee, or bistouille in dialect, with rum, brandy, or the local genever gin – sometimes all three!

Brittany has enjoyed in recent decades a brewing renaissance to match a more storied cider tradition. Normandy, too.

Certainly over a wide belt of northerly France “beer cuisine” exists, not just in the Flemish and Alsatian heartlands.*

Paris is not exempted despite the towering importance of wine. Beer has been enjoyed in Paris for many hundreds of years. Even before the revival of craft beer bars or brewing in the capital Paris could offer a good beer experiences.

The longstanding Académie de la Bière on boul. Port Royal, founded in the 1950s, is a classic Paris beer shrine. It has always been Belgian focused but today features good French and international beers, with craft beer not excluded. A typical dish on the menu is mussels cooked in beer.

A new generation of beer bars and brewpubs in Paris has joined the older school of Belgian, German, and English-oriented bars. This results from international craft beer influence and the implantation of small breweries all over France. They sell I.P.A., wheat beer, saison, and other styles familiar to craft beer fans everywhere.

There are perhaps 2,500 breweries now in France. In the early 1990s, when I toured the North with writer Michael Jackson, there were perhaps 30.

Given that craft brewing is now vibrant in most parts of France there is every reason to think that beer cuisine will develop beyond its traditional precincts.**


*By beer cuisine I mean dishes that use beer as an ingredient, or pairing beer with dishes, whether they contain beer or not.

**Post last updated July 28, 2022.





Lorraine’s Beer Cuisine


Lorraine, an Old Beer Region

Lorraine is often bracketed with Alsace in the term Alsace-Lorraine to express the territory encompassed by these old provinces. Implied too is a certain cultural distinctiveness, albeit it varies between Alsace and Lorraine and even within them.

Certainly Alsace and Lorraine have many different traditions, reflecting their distinct earlier history. Lorraine, especially outside the Moselle area annexed by Germany in 1871 together with Alsace, had a notable admixture of old Latin elements. Accordingly, Romance dialects survive there together with Germanic ones.

Lorraine and its cross connote the industrial – steel, textiles, lumber; touristic, as the Vosges mountains, and spas; and military, latterly, Verdun but much else associated to the First World War. As well, there are the number and influence of its principal cities such as Metz, Nancy, Epinal, and Thionville. Alsace has fewer concentrated population centres.

Still, Franco and German influences have intermingled in these provinces for centuries, and an appreciation for malted beverages is common to both, both historically and today in terms of a renaissance.

This post is concerned with the brewing tradition of Lorraine and more particularly as manifest in its cuisine.

Like Alsace, Lorraine is an old brewing region. There were many breweries at one time but closure and consolidation reduced the old-established ones to a handful. The survivors today are part of trans-national companies, including a famous name of Lorraine brewing, Champigneulles. Champigneulles, however, is not in a mega-group such as Heineken or Carlsberg. A German company comprising three breweries owns it, and the French wing operates much as it always did.

Champigneulles was a byword in France as a whole for fine beer after 1945. The name has been restored to the brewery’s labels after a long gap, a welcome step. The website describes the main brands produced today and they sound very good.


A number of craft breweries (mini-brasseries) have arrived to add welcome variety to the remaining old school breweries. Those interested in the beer traditions of Lorraine would profit, as I did,  from visiting the fine beer museum in Stenay, an old citadel town. It is housed in a venerable structure used variously in the past as a military storehouse and for a maltings. 

Lorraine’s Beer Dishes

Lorraine’s beer cookery is rather hidden. One may consult reputable sources on its regional cuisine, and find no reference to any beer dish. Still, it cannot be denied that a beer cuisine exists in Lorraine, without being trumpeted to be sure. A source of incontestable veracity in this regard is the historical survey of Lorraine brewing, Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine by the late beer historian, Philippe Voluer (Editions de L’Est, 1991).

One of the many of M. Voluer’s publications on French brewing, the book’s culinary chapter sheds light on an obscure corner of Lorraine cuisine. The chapter insists on the authenticity of its beer dishes, to the point M. Voluer felt obliged to note of Lorraine’s beer soup that for its part, the tradition may not predate WW I. Indeed, he did not shrink from suggesting that the dish arrived with German occupation.

Of the recipes whose authenticity is not qualified M. Voluer offers one for hop shoots cooked in water. He recommends it to accompany an omelette, or to be covered with béchamel and finished in the oven. Such is the local interest in this obscure vegetable, said to resemble young asparagus, that he states a mustard sauce is de rigueur.

Fish of the Lorraine rivers – pike, say or carp – is cooked traditionally in blonde beer with shallots, garlic, thyme, bay, and fennel. The book notes that in the 1800s locals used a spiced beer for this and a Belgian white beer is advised to copy the effect. There is beef cooked with beer, onions, carrots, green herbs – different it appears from the famous carbonnade of French Flanders.

The famous sauerkraut of Alsace is almost as popular in Lorraine. Voluer states beer was always used in some versions and renders the dish less acidic than wine. Chicken with beer pops up, a recipe rather similar in this case to that of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, but carrots appear, which I don’t recall in the recipes of Lille and surroundings.

A recipe in another book I have advises adding diluted beer to the pan of a roasting goose. I mentioned in my previous post on Alsace beer cuisine that Lorraine’s cooks also use beer to baste turkey.

Returning to Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine, its “carnival” beignet is enriched not just with beer but orange or lemon zest, cream, butter and eau de vie. The batter is also used to encase slices of apple which are, to boot, given a preliminary soaking in plum eau de vie. A crêpe recipe calls for not less than a bottle of beer. With all this use of beer in pastry, I could not locate a recipe for quiche lorraine – the queen surely of Lorraine gastronomy – that uses beer as an ingredient. Not even modern chefs resolutely on the road to personal creativity seem willing to take that one on.

Somme toute, we have in Lorraine a small but respectable inventory of local beer dishes. Beer cuisine is a small branch of the river that is Lorraine gastronomy, but is no less valid for that.

It is likely too, as for Alsace, that beer cuisine was the province of countless ménagères, whose food was handed down for generations in the maternal line. This bonne femme cooking is not the kind, I apprehend, automatically included by those who prepare repertories of provincial cuisine.


Note re images: The first was sourced at a French tourism site, here, the second, here, and the third, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Beer Cookery in Alsace


Aperçu on Beer Cookery in Alsace

I continue my discussion of cooking with beer by examining some traditional dishes in Alsace, France. The tradition should be regarded as quasi-German. Alsace has changed sovereignty several times over the centuries, and never quite lost a German flavour. I will deal with beer cookery in the adjoining Lorraine province later.

In the excellent La Bière En Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and Jean-Dany Potel-Jehl (Coprur, 1989), the authors state that traditionally, beer and gastronomy have no history in Alsace, apart from pretzels and charcuterie (delicatessen). They state a group of chefs decided to remedy this situation and books were published showing how beer can be used in local cooking.

The authors list about 20 dishes of this type. Some clearly are recent creations, e.g. lobster with beer and parsley sauce – among other things lobster is hardly native to the region. Another is a composed butter incorporating chopped lettuce and hop flowers, used for a spread.

Their escargots cooked with beer, chanterelles and crème fraiche is an interesting case. Escargot is typically Alsatian. So is cream with beer – the combination appears in the region’s coq à la bière – but with escargots the sauce is a more recent idea, to my knowledge.

On the other hand, some recipes evoke the battered old farmhouse more than a multi-starred restaurant kitchen. Beer soup, for example, whose name in the book tells the tale: “Soupe paysanne à la bière“.

The authors’ beer-battered fried carp, rabbit with beer, and ham hock cooked in cherry-beer, seem too on the traditional side of the ledger. While cherry beer is relatively new in France (the last 30-40 years) one can imagine some households added surplus cherries or plums to a beer medium. The Alsace region is notable for orchard fruit, after all.

In adjoining Lorraine in the late 1980s I had the same ham hocks cooked with La Choulette beer, not the cherry version though. It was in Stenay, the former garrison town. The dish was similar to the one in La Bière En Alsace. The restaurant was a local auberge that seemed traditional to the max.

I think, therefore, some recipes in La Bière En Alsace reflect ancestral practices, but the majority are new evolutions to present beer well in the kitchen.

For another aperçu on beer in Alsatian cookery, three slim books published between 1977 and 1985 offer good interest, entitled Gastronomie Alsacienne (Editions S.A.E.P.) These books, per the introduction, feature dishes from “a long family tradition”.

Here, therefore, the heritage of the dishes is stressed. The photography underlines this, showing the dishes in bucolic settings with tableware appropriate to a comfortable farmhouse.

Beer figures in a few recipes. There is the expected beer soup; a dish of veal, beer and juniper; coq à la bière, somewhat different from the one from French Flanders; and “beignets“, or doughnuts, prepared with beer yeast.

I have seen Alsatian recipes in other sources that use beer. In one, the skin of a turkey is rubbed with dark beer to promote browning and caramelization. In another, perch is cooked in an aromatized “steam of beer”. There is also a stuffed cabbage braised in beer.

Most of this has the ring of old regional food. Hence, while I would not claim beer as a star performer, it seems part of an older culinary tradition in Alsace.

Ceaseless change since the 19th century, when hundreds of breweries dotted these provinces, including rural depopulation, has perhaps obscured the heritage to a degree.

But without question, trained chefs in the last generation have added to the inventory, inspired in many cases by their own creativity – always the motive force of good cookery.

Note re image: image above is believed to be in the public domain, and was sourced here. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Beer Cookery With a Look At A French Version


Beer Cookery Considered, With an Aperçu on French Flanders

A feature of the beer scene in recent decades is “beer cuisine”. This term is ambiguous as it can mean:

  • food which matches beer choices but doesn’t use beer in cooking
  • food which does use beer in the cooking and is typically eaten with beer as an accompaniment
  • food which uses beer in cooking and has no specific reference to beer as an accompaniment.

Examples of the first are pretzels, sausages, sauerkraut, potato chips, hamburgers, some kinds of cheese.

Examples of the second include the Flemish beef carbonnade, Guinness-and-beef stew, and certain Czech preparations including with pork or carp.

In the third category, Welsh Rabbit (melted cheese and beer), beer batters for fish-and-chips or apple fritters, beer soups such as the American beer-and-cheddar soup or Alsatian and other northern European beer soups.

None of these are airtight, a beer can go well with Welsh Rabbit to be sure, you can use beer in dishes which don’t typically call for it, often to substitute for wine.

Every year one sees new books on all or various aspects of this total area. It’s a creative field where, as in any cooking, both historical precedent and novelty can be employed with good effect. Ultimately there are no rules, and what works for one person may work for another, or not.

In my own case, I am interested mostly in historical collections of regional dishes which use beer in the cooking. I have a fairly substantial list of these by now, from books collected over some decades. It is surprising how many beer dishes (in this sense) exist. You can’t necessarily go by “official” sources as many of the dishes are regional and were collected in books which never had a large sale and are obscure. For example, I believe in Julia Child’s first great French cookery book, there was only one recipe which used beer, for beef carbonnade.

In fact though, there are probably a hundred or more different French beer cookery dishes, most from corners of France where the dishes were part of a folk tradition. There are recipes for fish carbonnade from the seacoast of French Flanders, with veal or turkey in Alsace-Lorraine, for various soups from both these regions, with cheese e.g., to mature Maroilles, with pork hock (jambonneau) or game, and on it goes.

England has a surprisingly large number of dishes which use beer – Welsh Rabbit is probably still best known but there were dishes with game, ham, beef, seafood. America has many dishes using beer with seafood, soups, ice cream (the beer float), cakes and batters.

In the beer cookery books which have burgeoned since the 1950s, sometimes it can be hard to distinguish traditional dishes from ones which the author devised by substituting beer for wine or simply adding it where it typically wouldn’t be used. In a sense it doesn’t matter, what’s good is good, and today anyway in a wired world, regional traditions in the older sense are almost obsolete. It is usually still possible though to distinguish a dish of the older type from a newer, more innovative one.

One of the incontestably authentic Franco-Belgian beer dishes is chicken with beer sauce. There are versions from the Flemish-influenced far north of Francefrom Alsace-Lorraine, from Champagne and the French Ardennes, and over the border in the Belgian territories which correspond culturally to these other. A book by the French food writer Ninette Lyon gives a recipe for chicken with beer which originates in the 1930’s in Béthune in the north. The book is called Le Tour De France (Gourmand) Des Spécialités Régionales (Marabout, 1985). It’s a superb collection of dishes from France’s huge regional culinary inventory. She gives a sample menu for each region, from soup to nuts.

Mme Lyon’s droll way of writing is not the least pleasure of this book. She writes of coq à la bière (chicken with beer): “Dans le région de Béthune, où se déroule des combats de coqs, on met à la casserole ceux qui ne se sont pas montrés assez agressifs“. (“In the Béthune area, where people hold cock fights, they put into the pot the birds which didn’t prove themselves sufficiently aggressive”). She adds, this being said if you order the dish in Béthune it doesn’t mean you are assured of getting an “animal de combat”. It will be enough that you get a rooster, not a chicken whose weight disqualifies it being called a rooster or cock!

Mme Lyon was the type of writer one doesn’t encounter often today… I corresponded with her over 30 years ago on a couple of topics and she responded with great charm and in perfect English, I might add.

Her recipe for chicken with beer originated in a hotel in Béthune, she says, in the 1930s. Why a period as ostensibly late as that? It may simply be that that is the time the hotel decided to add the dish to their menu, or perhaps it was a new hotel. Another reason may be, that rabbit with beer sauce is another well-known country recipe in the Flemish lands and at some relatively later point the dish was adapted to chicken.

The Béthune recipe involves flouring the bird, browning it in butter and oil, and braising it in a mixture of beer – any kind from the region, she says – and veal stock or other lean bouillon. Mushrooms figure in it, herbs, and a dash of cream is added to a reduction of the sauce to give a texture and further taste. It’s a typical French braising dish such as you find all over the country except people use what is local for the alcohol element. Cider is used in Normandy, Champagne in Champagne, Riesling in Alsace (beer too sometimes), and so on.

Mme Lyon’s suggested menu of le Nord starts with a shot of Dutch-style gin – local also to the French far north, small goyères, the cheese tart made classically with the area’s pungent Maroilles, herring with mustard “en papillote“, a salad of beets, hard-cooked eggs and chicory (the salad leaves), and to finish, a pie of red plums. She advises as accompaniment, a dark beer (bière brune). It sounds good, eh? And it is, and this is from an area not even noted for cuisine amongst the pantheon of the French culinary regions.

Something with beer from Mme Lyon’s northern inventory somewhat more “gourmet” is her “compote” of guinea fowl cooked with dark beer. I think this may be a braise of the bird in beer, served with an apple or fig preserve on the side, I am not exactly sure. She also mentions, pork roasted with beer and onions, which is generally served cold. She records too that Maroilles cheese is often “washed” in its maturation, and beer is frequently used for this purpose, as mentioned earlier.

And there you go, a richness of beer cuisine, from one tiny corner of France.


Note re images: The first image above is in the public domain, and was sourced here.  Second image above, of Béthune, France, is believed in public domain and was sourced from this travel site. All feedback welcomed.








Guinness, Bottles, An Addendum

Another Form of Bottled Guinness Needs Discussion

After writing my notes on Guinness in bottles and cans, I was mindful that another version of the black brew, Guinness Special Export Stout, may still be – and clearly was at one time – brewed from a 100% barley malt mash. Probably the components were/are pale malt and black malt or, pale malt, caramel malt and black malt (which would be better).

This online discussion from 2012 about different forms of Guinness seems to confirm that Special Export Stout was all-malt then. Whether it is today, I can’t say. I had it last in Paris about 5 years ago, and found it rather thin and very similar to Guinness Extra Stout except stronger. However, from 20 years ago, I recall Special Export Stout being very good, rich and fruity. Older reviews on Beer Advocate and Ratebeer, the online rating forums, confirm that recollection.

What I had in Paris 5 years ago, bought in a discount food store chain, conceivably might have been different from what is sent to Belgium as Special Export Stout. Belgium is important because the John Martin importation agency of that country recites a history on its website that a different form of Guinness was wanted for that market than was being exported, this during WW II, unlikely as it sounds. Guinness sent them what is called now Special Export Stout. I should add my own reading suggests it wasn’t really new but had roots in an older form of Guinness sent to the Continent, but that is neither here nor there.

Guinness’s own website calls Special Export Stout “sweeter”, which suggests more malt is used than the other brews get, and maybe 100% malt again. This link from the Guinness website shows a picture of the current bottle and a description of the taste.

Therefore, Special Export Stout, if still all-malt, is – like the adjunct Foreign Extra Stout which is soured with a dash of matured beer – a vestige of 19th century brewing practices at St. James’s Gate, Dublin. The mashbill of Special Export Stout could therefore be the basis of a restored, pre-adjunct draft Guinness Porter and Stout. The hop rate is apparently fairly low, but if the rate was kept as is and the original gravity dropped to 1055 or so, you could get probably a very credible version of 1800’s Guinness Porter. Keep the gravity as is and boost the hops, and you will get closer to Guinness Extra Stout (aka Double Stout, Double Porter, etc.) in its classic era.

Once again, addition of unfermented wort – the extract of the mash boiled with hops but not yet fermented into alcohol – to a blend of fresh stout and some matured would enhance the credibility of the restoration.

But anyway, the point being, Guinness Special Export Stout in Belgium at any rate may still be all-malt. If anyone reading knows for sure, pray tell us.

Guinness in its history made beers under many names, which often were synonymous, for example, single stout and porter were used at different times to mean the same beer. Indeed, Guinness over the years has continued to make a surprisingly large number of beers. Most don’t last long in the market and seem variations on the theme of the main types (extra stout, widget stout, draft Guinness, Foreign Extra Stout).

From the standpoint of the advised or craft-oriented consumer, I’d suggest the key questions for both top quality and historical authenticity are: is the beer pasteurized (and if so, how); is the beer filtered; is the beer an adjunct beer; is the beer as highly hopped as possible; and does the beer exceed about 70% attenuation. The closer one gets to answering the first three of these, “no” and the last two, “yes”, the more the chance is the beer will hew close to its 1800s roots.

One might add, use of wooden vessels and unfermented wort for conditioning are requisites too. But there is a limit to how far any restoration project is likely to go. I’d give up on the latter two if I could get the others.

Bottle (Or Can) Of Guinness? Daresay I Will.


In recent postings I gave my thoughts on the famous beer of Ireland as they relate to draft Guinness.

Here are some ponderings on the various bottled and canned forms available in the market today. Historically, it was necessary to distinguish reaction to draft and bottled. The bottled beer called Extra Stout was, until the 90’s in England and about 2000 in Ireland, unfiltered and unpasteurized beer. In this sense, it harked back to an earlier time in the brewery’s history, when all its beer was sold this way. As explained earlier, the company turned what had been a cask beer into a pasteurized and gas-charged keg draft. Guinness fans thus looked increasingly to the bottled Extra Stout for the “real thing”.

An interesting feature of Guinness is that all bottling until quite late in the company’s history was in effect contracted out. Guinness sent the beer out in bulk form and it was bottled by local companies in the different regions of England, say. In Ireland, bottling was often done by the pubs themselves, in the cellar. Inevitably, inconsistency resulted and finally the brewery took all bottling in, preserving for a time the tradition of natural-conditioning in bottle.

I remember the beer on trips to the U.K. in the 80’s and 90’s. It was very good with a characteristic earthy (yeasty) note and a definite touch of bramble-like fruit. The dark fruit, or estery, note is very old in porter-brewing. As far back as the 1700s and 1800s beer manuals noted the characteristic in matured porter or advised to add elderberry wine to young beer emulate it. George Watkins advised the wine route in his brewing text of 1760, for example. I’ve tried it and it does produce something like a winy old beer, the characteristic a 1921 taste report on Guinness likened to a rare old vintage wine.

Even in 1990 say in London and probably Dublin, only bottled Extra Stout still received this historical deference. The canned stuff and any bottled too sold in off-license retail (vs. pubs) carried filtered and pasteurized Extra Stout. Finally, all bottled forms became pasteurized, sold in the pub or not.

Guinness gave as a reason for pasteurizing the bottled Extra Stout that with warmer central heating, the beer would mature too fast (spoil) before sale and it needed to be stabilized by pasteurization and filtration to be saleable within a 9 month window. The background is explained here in a detailed study of the history of bottled Guinness by ex-Guinness brewer David Hughes. Personally I find the explanation unpersuasive, as many modern craft beers are unfiltered and easily last 9 months and more. However, a factor may have been that this Extra Stout was under 5% abv. Modern craft beers are generally higher so the extra alcohol may preserve them for longer – and they probably on average are hopped more than Guinness. Hops preserve beer from souring at least for a time. Be that as it may, the last vestige of “real ale” Guinness disappeared when the brewery ceased to offer naturally-conditioned Guinness in the bottle.

The later-introduced “widget” or nitro system canned and bottled Guinness (shaped bottle), an emulation of the nitro-draft dispense, is all pasteurized. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the well-known strong Guinness which has some features of 1800s Guinness, has been pasteurized since the late 1940s. It’s a decent beer, I just had some in New York, but doesn’t attain to the complexity and wine-like characteristic of the best matured porter and stout, IMO. This version of the beer is not available for some reason in Canada.

Canadians have a special connection to the bottled stout in that yet a different version of Extra Stout is brewed under license in Ontario and New Brunswick by Labatt (AB-InBev-owned). The first time I had Guinness was in the 1970s in Montreal and it was this version. In Ontario, it is sold in the Beer Store system and you can find it occasionally in a LCBO. This version is IMO not that great, it has something of the Guinness taste but is not as good as the standard imported draft and widget Guinness. Apparently, Dublin sends a flavour extract to distant breweries and when added to a pale base beer, it becomes Guinness. The Labatt Guinness has a slight acerbic note and a burnt-cork taste. I’m told it is popular amongst the Caribbean expatriate community in the Greater Toronto Area.

The legend that is Guinness carries on but no doubt for valid commercial reasons as it saw them at the time, the company resolutely modernized its production and packaging processes. To put the change as tersely as possible, it converted to “sterile brewing”, as used in the sense of strict technical and microbiological control. Use of wood, which is hard to clean, is banished in production. As Hughes explains all this was a trade-off. Was the best naturally-conditioned Extra Stout better than pasteurized, stable Extra Stout? Undoubtedly. But the clean modern version was a heck of a lot better than a sour or funky bottle of unfiltered stout kept too long in a London pub…

In a world where craft beer, almost always unpasteurized but sometimes filtered, is making increasing gains, offering no beer in naturally-conditioned form or at least filtered but unpasteurized form, seems like odd man out. Guinness should return to the market some beer in a more traditional form, not just because that is what many fans who wish the beer well want, but for its own business reasons. We shall see if St. James Gate has the vision to do this. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t rule out that Guinness might start to see a precipitous decline in sales along the lines of Budweiser, say. Bud Light is still a big seller but regular, full-strength Bud is hardly the ten league strider it once was.

The company should consider in particular, i) returning some Extra Stout to naturally-conditioned form, ii) ditto for all Foreign Extra Stout at least Dublin-brewed, and iii) abandoning pasteurization for draft Guinness sold in Ireland and the U.K., at least in high-turnover locations. At its new experimental brewery in Dublin, it should make draft Guinness to 1800s methods. This means: all-malt, use of unfermented wort to naturally condition the beer, and 1800s-level hop rates.

Despite this, I like all Guinness in any form provided it is very fresh. It is still a good beer. I simply feel it could once again become a great beer.














Note re first image above: the charming old Guinness ad is from 1931 and was sourced here. Believed in public domain, but all feedback welcomed.

The Classic Taste of Guinness Stout


Getting At The Character Of Guinness 100 Years Ago And More

In my previous post on the character of draft Guinness in its classic era, I speculated on the palate as malty sweet with a winy edge from wood vatting. One must figure into that a decided bitterness, as Guinness was well-hopped, and also a charred edge from roasted malt – the stuff that makes the drink almost black. That character, drawn inferentially from technical data, is more than matched by a rare and articulate “taste note” on Guinness which survives from 1921. The account which follows is an extract from a fuller piece quoted by beer author Ron Pattinson in his book, Peace!:

There is something unspeakably seductive and evasive of true description about a first-class Irish stout, it is extraordinarily full and round, mellow and succulent. Yet is it bitter – but that somehow you don’t notice. Behind it and enriching the whole lies that soupcon of strange lactic-like sub-acidity. This infinitely charming beverage compounded of so many different flavours, is most fascinating and wholly characteristic and unapproachable in type.

Head and shoulders, so far as universal popularity is concerned, above other brands, stands out Guinness. Some of the other Dublin brands come remarkably near a prototype; but none has, or, at all events in pre-war days had quite full measure of the Guinness touch. Cork stouts have a delightful soft palatability and a distinction of their own.

To the mind of the writer it is the will-o’-the-wisp sub-acidity that does the trick in Irish stout. Take it away and you’ve little left but a black, heavy, dry, but very soft and full mild ale with a lot of hops in it — nothing very characteristic or outstanding. Curious that no one has succeeded in fathoming and grasping that extraordinary suggestion of a rare old vintage wine — something lactic it exposes to us — hidden away in the chocolate-coloured depths….. [T]he home consumption product has a veritable perfection of nicety of balance in this respect: it is indeed a wonderful work of the Art of Brewing.

When this was written, Guinness was richer in palate than today. Its attenuation, about 70% in 1861 (70% of the fermentable extract consumed in fermentation), climbed to 85% after 1950, where it is presumably today – you can’t go much higher.

In addition, Guinness was 100% barley malt until the mid-1900s – no raw grains.

Thus, the Guinness of this lyrical description would have been full-bodied and fairly sweet yet with a vinous élan. The Bacchic touch was attributable to lactic acid produced by extended aging of a portion of the beer in large wood vats. So balanced and perfect in palate was it that the heavy hop bitterness stout was known for was barely noticed.

The description gives some indication why Guinness became renowned, not just for beer quality around the globe, but for almost creating its own beer type. Indeed to this day, Guinness connotes not just a brand name but almost a style unto itself.

Guinness has released a couple of beers recently which claim an historical heritage, a Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter, but I understand they are not period recreations as such. I haven’t had the chance to try them, but taste notes I’ve read suggest to me these beers, while worthy, don’t aspire to the kind of superstar palate lauded in the 1921 account.

If anyone wants to try an experiment to re-create the pre-WW I palate, take any 7-8% abv rich but well-bittered stout provided it has no chocolate, coffee or other flavourings. The English Samuel Smith Imperial Stout, at about 8% abv, is a good choice, but countless craft choices qualify as well, or better.  In Ontario, I’d choose Grand River Brewing’s Russian Gun. Then, add a couple of teaspoons of wine vinegar to it.  You will notice a nervous acid tone, something you mightn’t even pick up on unless you knew it was there.

It may sound odd to some, but “sours” and wild brews are all the rage in beer circles today. Adding a touch of that character to an otherwise standard beer is eminently historical, and pleasing to many in palate. Numerous fine drinks have this type of effect, certain sherries and the Sauternes, for example.

Presumably, Diageo, owner of Guinness, has all the information in its archives to recreate a Guinness Stout of circa-1900. It’s got the spanking new experimental mini-brewery set up. Go to it, team.