Ale and Stout

Canadians love their beer — and we in the prairies are particularly lucky to have close access to some of the best barley in the world. And lucky us — not only is it great for drinking, it’s excellent for cooking.

Brews of all kinds add a nutty, hoppy, caramel-like flavour to a wide variety of dishes, and though cooking is a perfect solution for opened bottles that have been neglected and gone flat, its carbonation can provide added lift to quick breads and sweet or savoury baking powder-leavened baked goods. It makes a fantastic cooking medium for long-simmered beef or pork stews or braises (for tacos!), or can be used to poach fish and steam mussels and clams. Beer batters provide a light, crisp coating for fish, onion rings, even Mars bars: whisk together equal parts seasoned flour (I use salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika —unless you’re frying something sweet) and beer. And for a sort of stiff version of Welsh rarebit, blitz random cheese ends in the food processor with a pour of beer, enough to make it spreadable, and serve on toast or with crackers. For dessert, beer lends wonderfully complex caramel notes to buttercream frosting, ice cream, dense cakes (chocolate is fantastic), puddings and sauces.

Spring tends to bring a flurry of Guinness-inspired dishes around St Patrick’s Day, but stouts aren’t the only option in the kitchen — they all have their place. Deciding what kind of beer to cook with is a lot like choosing which to drink; darker stouts are far more robust and will add a darker colour and deeper flavour to whatever it is you’re making. Pilsners and pale ales are far less bold and might be better suited to light batters and steamed seafood, or for a quick pan sauce like you might otherwise make with a splash of wine. Expect the tartness of sours and bitterness of hops to come through in whatever it is you’re cooking, though many flavour nuances may be lost in long-simmered stews and braises. (And yes, nonalcoholic beers are just fine.) Just make sure the ale you use in the kitchen is something you also like to drink —chances are you’ll be the one to finish the bottle.

In our Ale and Stout series Julie makes Welsh Rarebit and Sticky Guinness Toffee Puddings.

Braised Beef and Ale Stew

Beer of all kinds is a classic cooking liquid for stews and braises; it’s especially well-suited to beef and pork. Pastry-topped Guinness pie is a classic, but it doesn’t have to be stout—any beer or ale, even non alcoholic varieties, work well in a long-simmered stew.
Servings 6


  • 2-3 lbs beef chuck, cut in 2-4 cm (1-2 inch) pieces 1-1.5 kg
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bottle or can dark ale or stout
  • 2-3 cups beef or chicken stock 250-325 ml
  • 2 thyme sprigs or 5 ml (1 tsp) dry thyme
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas 125 ml
  • pastry for a single crust pie, or 1/2 pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing (optional)


  • In a large, heavy pot, brown the meat in a drizzle of oil in batches (without crowding), seasoning with salt, over medium-high heat.
  • Transfer to a bowl and cook the onions in the same pot. Pour in the stout or stock and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the meat to the pot, add the thyme, cover and put into a 150°C (300˚F) oven for 2 ½-3 hours.
  • Remove from the oven and add the carrots and peas, stirring them into the gravy, cover and return to the oven for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out slightly larger than the diameter of your baking dish (or dishes).
  • Remove the stew from the oven, turn the heat up to 200°C (425˚F), and if you like, divide the stew into smaller baking dishes. Cover with pastry, allowing it to overlap the edges of your baking dishes, or tucking in the surplus. Brush the top with some beaten egg, if you’d like it glossy, and cut a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape.
  • Return to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.