At long last, beer paired with dinner has achieved the status that fine wine and haute cuisine have enjoyed in exclusivity. The evidence is in. The chefs are onto it. The books are being written. Beer has gone beyond the bounds of being solely a beverage. The marriage of flavors and aromas in beer/food pairings is a genuine gustatory revelation.

Two new cookbooks prove that there’s much more to life than beer-battered whitefish. Each volume offers recipes that pair with beer. Don’t be misled into thinking that all of the recipes use beer in the cooking—only a fraction call for beer. However, each book gives useful tutorials on subjects ranging from proper glassware, to beer styles, to pairing beer with cheese and chocolate. Each embraces the American beer tradition from a different perspective.

Lucy Saunders has not come lately to the dinner table. She is a chef and veteran journalist, and has already written two sought-after volumes: Cooking with Beer (1996) and Grilling with Beer (2001). Her latest release, The Best of American Beer & Food, was unveiled by Brewers Publications at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Cooking with Beer is really two books in one. Before bringing on the recipes, Saunders discusses several beer/cuisine topics using a newspaper interview style. Chefs and brewers from around North America are quoted on their individual discoveries of the synergy between beer and food.

A section on cheese pairing is followed by a discussion of chocolate, great starting points for enjoying these classic matches. Following is a discussion of beer/food appreciation by geographic region. This section doesn’t impart much practical information, but it does provide indisputable evidence that the revolution is in full swing.

The recipes, about 80 of them, are worth waiting for. Saunders has used her journalistic expertise to ferret out innovative recipes from brewpubs, restaurants and home chefs. One example is the Wood-Grilled Trout with Mission Fig Compound Butter. Dried figs are processed into a paste with butter, ginger and cardamom. The butter garnishes trout fillets that have been grilled on wooden planks. This is a dish that would pair with a wide range of beers, from an amber ale to an IPA to a dark Belgian specialty beer.

Other excellent recipes include Squash Shots with Hard Cider, Wild Game and Mushroom Stroganoff, and Porter-Poached Apples glazed with maple syrup and stuffed with toasted oats. Saunders’ book finishes with an excellent ten-page index of domestic craft beers, listing regional products by style. Whatever part of the country you might be in, this list will help you find the type of beer best suited to a particular dish.

Anheuser-Busch has just released a gorgeous new cookbook loaded with recipes suitable for beer accompaniment—185 recipes in all. The book was commissioned by A-B, produced by Sunset books, and beautifully photographed by San Francisco-based photographer Noel Barnhurst.

With input from professional chefs at A-B’s Florida resort kitchens, Great Food Great Beer presents a variety of dishes emphasizing comfort foods like Warm Potato Salad and New England-Style Pot Roast, as well as ethnic specialties like Chili Verde and Shrimp Garam Masala. Like Saunders’ book, the recipes favor meaty entrees, with less emphasis on seafood, salads and desserts. The book occasionally proposes a bold fusion of flavors, such as the Quesadilla with Cranberry Chutney, but for the most part leans towards hearty, somewhat traditional dishes.

Again, there are few recipes that use beer as an ingredient, but pairing suggestions accompany each recipe, naming both the A-B product and the generic beer style. This keeps the book from looking too much like a gratuitous marketing ploy by the industry giant. Home cooks who prefer beers from smaller producers could easily substitute their favorites. Two helpful additions to this tome include a serving guide illustrating the type of glass to use with each beer style, and a dictionary of styles.

If you are the type of culinary commando to spontaneously sprinkle lavender beer on your scallops, you should probably start with Lucy Saunders’ exploration of American craft beer paired with innovative food suggestions. Her freelance nature has allowed her to explore an extraordinary range of American beers and regional cuisines. For those seeking a thicker volume of warm and savory traditional dishes, Great Food Great Beer is a sure-fire winner and visual feast.

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