Eat Your Favorite Beers

IF YOU LOVE beer, chances are you’re drinking it (as you should), but before you quaff that bottle, consider adding a splash to your food. After all, wine and spirits are renowned for adding depth and oomph to your favorite recipes — so why shouldn’t it be the same for beer? “Beer works with everything,” says chef Michael Bilger, co-owner of Sessions Restaurant in the Presidio. “And there are no rules.”

With that gloves-off endorsement, along with the explosion of craft beers and home brewing, you have an inspiring recipe for creative cooking, enhanced by a range of brews touting flavor notes running the gamut from earthy, chocolate and toffee to citrus, biscuit and rose. It would be remiss to not add a fortified flavor-laden glug to your dinner.

So where to begin? Ale or lager? How about those bitter IPAs? And what the heck is a lambic? With award-winning breweries at our doorstep, the possibilities for embellishing meals seem boundless and maybe a bit overwhelming at first. So we’ve asked a few local brewers and restaurants for tips and recipes using beer, with a recommended pairing. Their enthusiasm for this culinary trend is apparent. As Bilger attests, “When your belly is full and you’ve defeated your hearty (beer-enhanced) meal, you can celebrate your victory by crushing the beer can in your fist.”

You can’t do that with a wine bottle.

Think Before You Pour

Before you dump a bottle of beer into your chili-to-feed-a-crowd, taste. Beers have distinctive flavors, aroma and body, and what you pour in will impact the flavor of the dish. Beer consists of three basic components, which add flavor to food. Hops injects bitterness, malted grain lends sweetness and the fermentation process provides yeasty notes. The type of beer you choose will determine the balance of these flavors. And remember: if you wouldn’t want to drink it, then don’t cook with it.

Keep It Simple

As a starting point, choose a light pale ale that has a balance of hops and fruit. “Lighter, less hoppy beers are not too bitter and generally work with most dishes,” says Marin Brewing Company executive chef Mario Gongora. “If I want a darker beer, to go with meat, I use a porter, which is strong and smooth.” Another way to approach mixing beer and food is the same way you might approach wine: combine heavier and meaty beef, pork and game dishes with dark ales, porters and stouts. Combine lighter dishes, such as seafood, chicken and salads, with a light ale or wheat beer.

Beer Basics


Are fermented slowly at cool temperatures, which inhibits the production of esters, the fruity aromas present in ales, and allows the hops flavor to be more present. Lagers are highly carbonated, lighter in body and crisp, which makes them an ideal alternative to seltzer in batters for deep-frying or for yeast in breads.


are fermented quickly at warmer temperatures, which produces the flowery, fruity-inducing esters. While ales are more bitter than lagers, their bitterness is balanced by malt, resulting in sweet, full-bodied brews. Try steaming sweet mussels in ale or pour ale into hearty soups or meaty stews as a substitute for stock or red wine.


are famously bitter, characterized by an abundance of hops. It bears mentioning that while IPAs are great for drinking and pair well with spicy foods, such as curries, they are usually too bitter for cooking.


are made from heavily roasted barley and malt grains, yielding rich chocolate, coffee and malt flavors and aroma. These dark beers are a hearty addition to stews and sauces, where they can stand shoulder to shoulder with other assertive flavors. They work well in chilis, marinades, and barbecue sauces, and believe it or not, they are excellent additions to rich desserts that complement their chocolate, spice and sweet notes.


are funky beers, with dry, winey and sour flavors. Unlike other beers, which are fermented with specific yeast strains, lambics are fermented with wild yeast. Fruit, such as raspberries, cherries and peaches, is often added to the fermenting process. Lambics are a refreshing addition to desserts like poached fruit, crisps and fruit sorbets. They can also be an interesting addition to beverages — beer cocktails, anyone?


“Beer pairs exceptionally well with cheese,” says Alan Atha, founder and co-owner of Baeltane Brewery (Closed). “You can have a field day with the pairing.” With up to a dozen artisanal beers on tap in Baeltanes’s cozy taproom, there’s no better place to experiment. Specializing in small-batch Belgian, French and West Coast–style ales, Atha explains that each of his beers “tells a story and is crafted with a twist.” Baeltane’s tiny tasting room is often full of regulars enjoying the unplugged convivial atmosphere. While there isn’t a food menu, picnics are cheerily encouraged, and as always, cheese is welcome (include a variety of flavors and strengths).

Beer-Brined Pickles

Makes about 32 ounces

Ploughman’s Cheese Board with Beer – Brined Pickles and Onion-Chile-Ale Relish: For fresh goat cheese, pour a pale, citrusy, hoppy, carbonated beer such as the Citroen Farmhouse Ale. Pair a nutty aged cheese, such as gouda, with a strong, malty beer with caramel notes, such as Corsair Dark Strong Ale. For a washed rind cheese, such as Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, try a hoppy carbonated beer to cut the fat, such as The Frog That Ate the World Double IPA. For blue cheese, go big, fruity and earthy with a glass of Beleriand Barleywine.


  • 12 ounces Baeltane Citroen Farmhouse Ale
  • 1½ cups apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 pounds Persian cucumbers, sliced ½ inch thick
  • ½ pound baby sweet peppers
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chile flakes
  • Dill sprigs

To Prepare

Combine the ale, vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat. Pack the cucumber and peppers into mason jars. Divide the remaining ingredients between the jars. Pour the liquid over the vegetables to cover, leaving ¼-inch space at the top. Cover the jars and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks.

Onion-Chile-Ale Relish

Serve this relish as a condiment with cheese and on crostini. It’s also a great addition to burgers and sausages. Makes about 2 cups.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large onions, about 2 pounds, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces Baeltane Cobblestone Bière de Garde
  • 1 red jalapeño pepper, seeded, minced
  • ⅓ cup dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To Prepare

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and begin to lightly color, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a container and cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Marin Brewing Company has been an anchor at Marin Country Mart, formerly Larkspur Landing, for decades, dishing out fresh Cali pub fare and pouring award-winning beers for thirsty shoppers, ferry riders and tourists. Its extensive menu includes classic beer-fortified fare, including Mt. Tam Pale Ale–Battered Fish and Chips and Pork Beer Sausage Chili. Executive chef Mario Gongora is a big fan of incorporating beer in marinades, which he uses for his Flank Steak Salad. “The beer acts as a tenderizer for the meat,” he says, as the alcohol breaks down the proteins. Darker beers are slower to burn off than lighter beers while cooking, driving more flavor into the meat, so Gongora uses Marin Brewing Company’s Point Reyes Porter for the flank steak. “It’s strong enough to stand up to the meat flavor, but smooth and not bitter.”

Point Reyes Porter–Marinated Flank Steak Salad

Assistant brewer Will Thompson recommends Marin Brewing Company’s Tripel Dipsea Belgian-Style Ale, “which has fruity, estery notes and a little spice, and pairs wells with the fresh salad and spicy meat.”

Serves 4 as a main-course salad



  • 1 cup Marin Brewing Company Point Reyes Porter
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts chopped
  • ¼ cup hoisin sauce
  • ¼ cup Chinese black bean garlic sauce
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1½ pounds flank steak, cut against the grain into 1½-inch strips

{Honey Mustard Vinaigrette}

  • ⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 6 ounces baby kale
  • ½ cup cooked Israeli couscous and/or quinoa
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 (6-ounce) fresh mozzarella, cut into 8 wedges, each wedge halved
  • Tomato wedges
  • English cucumber slices

To Prepare

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the steak strips to the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 5 hours. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Grill the steak to your desired doneness. Whisk all of the vinaigrette ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Place the spinach and kale in a large bowl. Drizzle ⅓ cup of the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Divide the salad between serving plates or bowls. Sprinkle the couscous and cranberries over each salad and divide the mozzarella, tomatoes and cucumbers between each plate. Top with the steak strips. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette and serve immediately.


Iron Springs has been pouring handcrafted beers in Fairfax for more than 20 years. This casual beer pub, popular with families, bike riders and musicians alike, serves up fresh homemade pub fare in a relaxed and friendly environment. All beers are brewed on site, and while most are poured into a glass, traditional beer and food combinations are found on the menu. One such classic is the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. Head chef William Hazzard slow-cooks the pork in a sweet and tangy sauce fortified with a bottle of Iron Springs’ Fairfax Coffee Porter. The smooth brew has strong coffee notes and hints of chocolate and vanilla, which complement the sweetness and balance the acidity and spiciness of the sauce.

Fairfax Coffee BBQ Pulled Pork

Serves 6


Marin Magazine Pulled Pork Burger
Brewmaster Michael Altman recommends Iron Springs JC Flyer IPA, which is well hopped with fruity notes and bright carbonation that will balance and cut the rich flavorful pork.



  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1½ tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ tablespoon ground coriander
  • ½ tablespoon cayenne

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, divided into 2 to 3 pieces

  • 4 cups Iron Springs Fairfax Coffee Porter
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups crushed Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1½ cups Mexican cola
  • ¾ cups apple cider vinegar

To Prepare

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Coat the pork on all sides with the rub. Grill the pork until browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan and add the remaining ingredients. Cover the pan with foil and transfer to the oven. Roast until the meat is fork-tender, 3 to 4 hours, checking and turning the meat every 30 minutes or so. (If the pan begins to dry before the pork is finished, add more water to the roasting pan.) Remove from the oven and, with 2 forks, pull the meat into shreds. Serve on a toasted brioche bun.

Marin Magazine Michael Biliger
Michael Bilger, chef at Sessions Restaurant.


Longtime home brewer and chef Michael Bilger, with his Marin-residing business partner Evin Gelleri, set out to create an establishment that would “combine great cuisine with great beer in a restaurant that was different than a gastropub.” Lucky for them (and us), they scored a soaring space in the Presidio’s newly constructed Letterman Building. Not only is beer an ingredient in many of Bilger’s recipes, such as the brine for his Sunday Supper Fried Chicken and Cheddar Ale Mac and Cheese, he also incorporates brewing ingredients in his creations such as Hops Salt Fries with Dark Malt Aioli — created with the dark malt sugar — and homemade brown bread with Belgian Abbey yeast. When Bilger is not concocting his beer-kissed Californian recipes (incorporating olive oil, vegetables and wagyu beef sourced from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin), he makes his own small-batch brew in Sessions’ on-site brewery, where he plans to develop a community space for home brewers to make and release their own batches.

Beer Brined Fried Chicken with Cheddar Ale Mac and Cheese

Begin preparing this recipe one day in advance of serving to allow the chicken to brine overnight. Serves 6 to 8.

Marin Magazine Chicken
Chef Bilger recommends pairing Fort Point Park beer with his beer-can-crushing dinner. The session-style wheat beer “delivers a wonderful grapefruit and citrus aroma, with a mildly tart palate that finishes clean and dry and cuts through the richness of the mac and cheese and highlights the herbaceous notes of the chicken.”



  • 2 cups pale beer, such as Fort Point Park beer
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 2 sprigs fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 cups ice water (mostly ice)

2 (2½- to 3-pound) naturally raised chickens, each broken down into 8 pieces


  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup rice flour
  • ¾ cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons granulated onion
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Oil, for frying
  • Hot sauce
  • Honey
  • Lemon wedges

To Prepare

MAKE THE BRINE Combine all of the brine ingredients, except the ice water, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Transfer the ice water into a 6-quart container with a lid. Pour the brine into the container and stir until the ice melts (the brine should be about room temperature). Add the chicken to the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.

MAKE THE DREDGE Combine the ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend.

FRY THE CHICKEN Preheat a deep fryer to 325°F. Alternatively, add enough oil to a cast-iron skillet to come halfway up the largest pieces of chicken, and heat to 325°F. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set aside a roasting rack large enough to hold all of the chicken pieces. (It’s important that you use a rack, and not just a sheet pan, so that your chicken will be completely crispy.) Set up a dredge station with the buttermilk in one large bowl and the dredge in another. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, tapping off the excess. Coat the pieces lightly in the buttermilk, then dredge them in the flour once more. (Be sure to dredge the chicken thoroughly, pressing on the pieces to make sure they are well coated).  Fry the chicken pieces in either the deep fryer or cast-iron skillet for 6 minutes. If using the cast iron skillet, cook the chicken pieces for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to the roasting rack and bake for 18 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through. Serve the chicken with Cheddar Ale Mac and Cheese and the hot sauce, honey and lemon wedges.

Marin Magazine Mike Schnebeck
Mike Schnebeck, head brewer of Fort Point Beer Company.

Cheddar Ale Mac and Cheese Ingredients

When beer is reduced, it intensifies in flavor, so choose a light malty beer, such as Anchor Steam, for the sauce. Serves 6 to 8.


  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle light malty beer
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1 pound aged sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

To Prepare

Cook the macaroni per package instructions, then drain and reserve. Place the beer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Pour the milk into another saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat; keep warm. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and sweat the shallots over medium heat. Add the flour and cook until slightly toasty in aroma, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk the milk into the roux and then add the reduced beer, the salt, mustard powder and cayenne, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer and gradually add the cheese, stirring until melted. Stir in the macaroni and transfer to an 8-by-10-inch casserole dish. Place under a preheated broiler and cook until well browned.


Hopmonk Tavern, the brewpub institution founded by Dean Biersch, has been combining beer, food and live music since its inception in 2008. The classic beer-infused pub grub includes Kellerbier-Battered Fried Calamari, Smoked Sausages with Lagunitas Ale, and Cider Braised Salmon — but it’s the dessert we are interested in. According to chef Aaron Adraneda, head chef at Hopmonk’s Novato outpost, you can have your dessert — and a beer, too. He uses Hopmonk’s Dunkelweizen, a smooth dark wheat beer with aromas of (no surprise) chocolate, banana, caramel and clove, in a number of his desserts, such as Pumpkin Seed Brittle, ice cream and the caramel sauce he serves with his Honeyed Banana Cake.

Honeyed Banana Cake with Dunkelweizen Caramel Sauce

Makes 1 (8-inch) cake


Marin Magazine Cake

Chef Andraneda recommends pouring Dunkelweizen to serve with the cake. Clearly, you can’t have too much of a good thing.




  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons plus ¾ cup unsalted chilled butter, cubed
  • 2 large bananas, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs

{Caramel Sauce}

  • 1 pint Dunkelweizen
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2¼ teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup half-and-half

To Prepare

MAKE THE CAKE Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan. Heat the honey in a small saucepan over medium heat until dark in color, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons butter, then stir in the bananas. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then pour into the bottom of the spring-form pan and spread evenly. Combine the ¾ cup butter, the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the eggs and process until smooth. Spread the batter in the pan, covering the bananas. Transfer to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.

MAKE THE SAUCE In a small saucepan, simmer the Dunkelweizen until reduced by about three-quarters. Keep warm. In a separate saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat until dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in the butter, one cube at a time (it will bubble). Whisk in the salt, then whisk in the half-and-half (use heavy cream if a thicker sauce is desired). Whisk in the reduced Dunkelweizen. Serve the cake with whipped cream and the caramel sauce drizzled over.

Back to the first recipe

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Cooking with Beer“. 

Lynda Balslev

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food writer, editor and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She authors the nationally syndicated column and blog TasteFood, and co-authored the cookbook Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture (2015 Silver Medal Winner Independent Publisher Awards). She is the 2011 recipient of the Chronicle Books Award (Recipe Writing) to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and a 2018 Fellowship Award recipient to the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, Napa Valley. Lynda’s writing and photography have been recognized by the New York Times Diners Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and more.