Behind the Norwich Inn’s parking lot, the Jasper Murdock Ale House produces just a few hundred barrels of luscious ales each year. And as refreshing as the beer is the brewery’s garden. Surrounded by twining vines laden with hops, several tables are set for dining in the beer garden. Besides the living green screen of hops to shield the view from diners, gigantic terracotta planters towering with flowers add perfume and color. A glass of golden ale adds its own spicy aroma.
Beer-based marinades add flavor and moisture to all kinds of grilled foods, but more time spent marinating isn't necessarily better.
Truly, this beer garden is paradise in a parking lot.
So go ahead. Whether you create your own beer garden by setting up a table and chairs in the driveway, park, campground, or around the patio with the backyard grill, it’s time to eat and drink outdoors.
Ditching the kitchen is easy when you cook on the grill. Summer dinner staples, such as burgers, ribs, brats and grilled chicken, are best prepared outdoors. With a little planning, even stovetop standards like orzo pilaf can be prepared on the grill as well.
And beer is the unrivaled drink of summer, perfect with fresh produce, grilled meats and seafood. Beer also can add an interesting flavor twist to your main course.
Flavoring with Beer
Brewpub chefs offer their own advice for infusing the flavor of beer into summertime grilling. Chef Jason Cichon of Flatlanders Pub in Illinois offers a stout-marinated skirt steak, grilled and topped with a red onion marmalade. “I like to use stout when making marinades or grilling because the caramel notes really stand up to the meat flavor,” Cichon says. Flatlanders Pub even sets up a huge grill to cater the Lincolnshire Fourth of July fireworks festival.
Sausages and bratwurst are classic summer grill fare. In Berkeley, CA, the Jupiter serves grilled sausages made by Gerhard with its roster of house ales, plus guest taps such as Anderson Valley Brewing Co. It’s quite sublime to sit outside in the beer garden, listening to jazz on a warm night.
Purists debate whether to cook bratwurst in beer. In Milwaukee, Usinger’s Sausage vice president Debra Usinger maintains that beer is best served as a companion to bratwurst, “because simmering the sausage in beer makes it bitter.” But many grill cooks counteract that bitterness by loading up a stock pot with sliced onions and adding beer to parboil brats before they grill. The bratwursts cook through, leaving behind much of the fat in the liquid before being crisped over the coals. The onions add vegetal sweetness to counteract the hops bitterness.
I enjoy the solution developed by Chef Scott McGlinchey of Wisconsin’s Heaven City Restaurant: cook a batch of onions in stout, coarse ground mustard and extra caraway and mustard seeds. Just slather that savory blend on top of a grilled bratwurst for the taste of beer while maintaining the original flavor and seasonings of the meat.
Fish and seafood are simple to prepare outdoors. Rub with seasonings or marinade for 60 minutes, and wrap in foil before tucking on the grill. Unless the fish is a whopper, grilled fish takes just minutes to cook. During a party before the Great Taste of the Midwest, I saw brewer Kirby Nelson season lake trout with Tony Cachere’s Cajun spice blend, then bake the foil-wrapped fish on coals of a bonfire in Capital Brewery’s beer garden.
For a different flavor, try an alder- or cedar-planked fillet of fish. Just tack the fish onto the board, holding it in place with strips of herbs or long scallion leaves, and let the heated wood add its aroma to the fish. Best of all, there’s no clean up. After removing the fish, just crumple up the blistered wood and let it fall into the fire, to become smoky wood chips that add aroma to grilled peppers or onions. (Home cooks can find alder or cedar planks for the grill at www.chinookplanks.com.)
To cook chicken or pork, prepare the plank by soaking it in beer, and then rub it with olive oil to lengthen the time it can sit on the grill without charring.
Beef on the grill is a natural. Robb Walsh, the author of Legends of Texas Barbecue, points out that Texans cook beef over real wood for a smoky flavor that can’t be duplicated with charcoal. Not just any wood either, but post oak for authentic flavor. Yet, I like pecan wood for its nutty aroma. Fruit woods, such as cherry or apple, also work well.
Ribs of beef, mopped generously with a beer baste, taste wonderful with stout or bock beer. As Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster’s Table, points out, “sweetness in a tomato-based sauce might make an amber lager taste too thin or dry.” With ribs caramelized in a spicy sweet sauce, “you need to pull out the big guns—it’s time for American brown ale. Full bodied, rich, and refreshingly sharp bitterness up front with plenty of roasted caramelized malt flavors to match the meat.”
So, get grilling in the beer garden for dinner. Match your taste buds with one of the following marinades or basting sauces to bring out the summer’s flavor with smoke and spice.