The mainstream beer cookbooks currently on the market all emphasize the word “beer.” It's usually the biggest word on the cover and photos of frothy pint glasses or designs featuring bubbly golden liquid backgrounds are main selling points.
Most of the recipes inside these types of publications reflect this booze-appeal marketing tactic and are usually just regular comfort food findings — cheese fondue, meatloaf, chili — that have added a generic call for “beer” as an ingredient.
Thankfully, though, Brew Food — the latest book from San Diego's beer-loving book company Chef's Press — goes beyond the novelty of “You can have your beer and eat it too!” and pushes the concept of using beer in food to new, delicious try-it-at-home heights.
A collaboration between San Diego County's biggest brewers and some of its most prominent chefs, Brew Food is one of only a few books in the cookbook world that treat beer like wine and feature recipes tailored to utilize the flavors of specific brews.
Though the book doesn't explicitly scream “San Diego” from its cover (aside from the beachfront food photography), its full-color pages are so full of information about the city's tiny local nanobreweries and up-and-coming chefs that it's almost like a 2012 yearbook of the growing intersection between these two communities in a city that helped launch the modern craft beer craze.
Chef's Press hosted a book release event at San Diego's Mission Brewery during the opening night of San Diego Beer Week, and nearly three-quarters of those whose photos and quotes appear in Brew Food showed up to sign copies.
San Diego's top-rated Miho Gastrotruck also sat outside, churning out the book's most adventurous recipes — including Miho's own Wahoo Wheat Cioppino (cioppino without red wine?!) along with Lightning Brewery's pulled pork sandwiches, which uses the qualities in beer's sweet wort (pre-beer, in non-brewing terms) to make a molasses-like sauce perfectly built for sides of cole slaw.
Of course the book features a few simple twists on classic comfort foods — such as the spicy IPA burger from executive chef A.G. Warfield of legendary taphouse Churchill's Pub and Grille, which calls for ground chuck, ground lamb and eight ounces of Alpine Beer Company's Nelson IPA. But most of Brew Food is filled with non-traditional concoctions, such as the barleywine-glazed salmon created by Chuck Silva, Brewmaster at Green Flash Brewing Co., and the brown butter-seared scallops recipe from Bo-Beau Kitchen and Bar's Chef Katherine Humphus — which calls for a gastrique made from Port Brewing's Wipeout IPA and finishing garnishes of hop flower dust.
The culinary take-away from Brew Food is in its unconventional use of beer across a wide array of dishes, a trend that now has solid footing in San Diego and is beginning to pick up even more momentum in L.A. With a wide range of flavor nuances (the huge difference between a stout and a pilsner, for example), many chefs are beginning to come around to what brewers have long known — that well-crafted beers should share elevated status alongside wine in the culinary world.
As L.A. continues to sprout new breweries and grow its craft-beer personality, Brew Food is a terrific guidebook. Maybe one day, we'll have our own homegrown edition that features recipes such as Golden Road Brewing's Hefe-braised carnitas tostada alongside Trattoria Neopolis' Smog City Brewing-incorporating desserts.
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