While some form of beer is brewed in many parts of the world, most if not all of the world’s great beer styles originated in a thousand-mile-long stretch of Europe north and northwest of the Alps, from Bohemia to Ireland. To get an idea of the influence of this “beer belt,” try to imagine brewing (or tasting) beer without any reference to Czech Pilsner, German lagers and weizenbiers in all their shades, Dutch and Danish lagers, the many-faceted Belgian wheat and abbey beers, English and Scottish ales, or Irish stout — what’s left?

Beer as we know it grew up in this region because of its geography. The climate of northern and central Europe is too cold to grow grapes, except in the most favored microclimates, but it’s well suited to growing barley and wheat. It’s only natural that these grains became the base for everyday fermented beverages, although apples have an important role as well.

The beer-belt countries also supplied most of North America’s European population, at least until the mid-19th century. Many of the foods familiar to North Americans of English, Scottish, Irish, and Germanic descent reflect the foodways of their ancestors. Sausages and other cured meats, cold-water seafoods, and dairy products are common across all northern European cuisines. Staple vegetables include potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables, and other hardy crops. Beer-belt cuisines are also characterized by braising, stewing, sweet and savory baked dishes, and (with notable exceptions) a light hand with spices. Beer sometimes becomes an ingredient, but not as often as you might guess.

Not surprisingly, the recipes in this chapter can go with a wide range of beers. I have noted my favorite pairings, but do follow your own tastes.

Espresso by the Pint: Stouts and Porters

It’s no surprise that the region that spawned Peet’s, Starbucks, and other purveyors of dark-roasted, flavorful coffee also brews a lot of full-flavored ales based on dark to black malt. When the early home-brewers and microbrewers were looking to make something with more flavor than the typical American beer, they naturally gravitated to the other end of the spectrum, Ireland’s Guinness Stout. Around the same time, English brewers were beginning to resurrect porter, a somewhat lighter 19th-century London style that had become nearly extinct. Porters and various styles of stout remain favorites in English and Irish pubs.

Irish stout generally has a dry finish, while English stouts can be quite sweet. Variations on the style include stouts with some oatmeal, milk, or even oyster extract added to the wort.

Drawing on these inspirations and more, West Coast brewers have developed many instant classics, including Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Anchor Porter, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, and Lind Brewing’s Sir Francis Stout, not to mention specialty stouts like Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout and the unique Alaskan Smoked Porter.

In general, stout implies more body and flavor than porter, but there is considerable overlap. Both styles tend to have rich malt flavors on the palate, often with coffee and chocolate notes, and moderate to high hop bitterness; they may finish dry or slightly sweet.

For all their strength, these beers can go with strikingly delicate foods like raw oysters. I also like a good porter or dry stout with roast beef or Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce (variation, Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sauce), where the dry and hoppy finish cleanses the palate for the next bite.

Recipes from the Beer Belt:

Whisky-Cured Salmon with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

Mussels Steamed in Wheat Beer

Oysters on the Half Shell

Curried Beef Pasties

Pork Loin Stuffed with Prunes

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Carbonnade of Beef Braised in Beer

Choucroute Garni des Brasseurs (Sauerkraut Braised with Assorted Meats)

Classic Standing Rib Roast

Individual Spinach Soufflés

Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sauce

Medallions of Venison with Currant Sauce

Cod Baked in Cider

Dungeness Crab au Naturel

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

The Microbrew Lover's Cookbook: From the Beer Belt
Beer and the foods of Northern and Central Europe.