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 Braised Beef and Ale Stew, plus Sticky Guinness Toffee Puddings.

Welsh Rarebit

Though most have heard of Welsh rarebit, not everyone could describe what it is —essentially a thick cheese sauce made with cheddar and beer, poured over toast and sometimes broiled until blistered on top. It’s fantastic comfort food, and a great way to utilize days-old bread and any cheese ends you might have in your fridge.
Servings 4


  • 2 tbsp butter 15 ml
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour 15 ml
  • 1 cup beer or ale 250 ml
  • 1/2 cup half and half or whipping cream 125 ml
  • 2 tsp grainy mustard 10 ml
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce 5 ml
  • 2 cups grated extra-old cheddar 500 ml
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • thickly sliced bread toasted or not, for serving


  • In a medium saucepan, whisk the butter and flour over medium-high heat. Whisk in the beer or ale, cream, grainy mustard and Worcestershire and bring to a simmer; cook for a minute or two, until thickened.
  • Reduce the heat and whisk in the grated cheese until melted and smooth. Season with salt and/or pepper, if it needs it.
  • Spoon onto toasted bread and if you like, run under the broiler for a minute to blister the top.