Beer, as Homer Simpson once opined, is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.
As it turns, it’s also a pretty excellent ingredient to use for cooking.
At Creamline Beer Garden in the heart of Chelsea in New York City, chef Harris Mayer-Selinger uses beer in a number of dishes he serves alongside the beers from Catskill Brewery that are available at the new establishment.
One of those beer-infused dishes is Creamline’s warm beer cheese, which comes with pretzel chips and soft pretzel nuggets for dipping. Originally too dark in color due to being made with a stout, the cheddar cheese-based sauce is now made with a light lager after a number of different beer varieties were tested during development.
“We had a basic cheese sauce recipe we were already using, and we realized we wanted to make it into a beer cheese,” Mayer-Selinger tells InsideHook. “We added a reduction of beer to give it that flavor we were after. It was as simple as making batches with each of the beers from Catskill and deciding which one tasted and looked the best. There were some beers that were too dark and others where we didn’t like the flavor. The combination that we’re using now is where we want it to be.”
A pleasing shade of gooey gold, Creamline’s beer cheese is all-natural and creamy without being too chunky or heavy.
“A lot of beer cheese can be pretty thick, but we’ve always liked the style of something you could warm up and drizzle over fries or dip pretzels in,” Mayer-Selinger says. “We wanted it to be a little more light just like good old-fashioned cheese sauce. That’s what we were always going for. Keeping a cheese sauce creamy-looking requires a lot of technique and specific proportions of ingredients like fat, water and cornstarch.”
And, in this case, beer.
“We actually cook our beer down until it’s really syrupy, so it gets really thick and doesn’t water down our sauce,” Mayer-Selinger says. “Cooking with beer doesn’t mean you just add a splash of beer to something. The most important thing when you’re cooking with alcohol is that you actually cook the literal alcohol off so that what you’re left with is the flavor without the alcohol. If a beer has some sweetness to it and is pretty thick, rich and creamy, it’s going to get even more thick and creamy and rich when you reduce it. You’re just removing water, and what you’re left with is all the flavors and they concentrate. Whatever you taste in the beer before you cook with it is going to be amplified by reducing it. I think all alcohols bring an underlying acidity, sweetness and a pleasant bitterness to all sorts of dishes. Beer is delicious to drink, but it’s also delicious when it’s used as an ingredient.”
To see if he speaks the truth, we suggest using Mayer-Selinger’s recipe to make your own beer cheese at home.
Creamline Beer Garden’s Warm Beer Cheese
- 1 16-oz can of beer
- 2 tbsp of yellow mustard
- 4 quarts of shredded white cheddar cheese
- 4 cans of evaporated milk
- 2 quarts of heavy cream
- 2 tsp of salt
- ½ cup of Frank’s hot sauce
- ¼ cup of cornstarch
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add beer and reduce by 75%.
- Add evaporated milk and heavy cream and slowly bring to a simmer
- In a large bowl, toss shredded cheese with corn starch
- Add cheese mixture 1 quart at a time to the saucepan with the hot cream mixture
- After each addition, whisk until fully melted, and continue adding and slowly melting until all cheese has been added
- Whisk in salt, hot sauce, and yellow mustard
- Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to avoid scorching
- Remove from heat and cool quickly in an ice bath
- To serve, reheat gently, being sure not to boil so the sauce does not split
- Serve warm with pretzels or chips.
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