It was only to be expected that the burgeoning craft beer movement would eventually surge over the bar and into the kitchen. Over the past several years, we've seen SF Beer Week, the recent, epic 500-event beer fest, explode into a world filled with beer-pairing dinners, lunches and brunches.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that craft beers have even found a place on the dessert menu.
These days, you can find apricot ale mousse and amber creme brulee at the Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley and Walnut Creek; gingerbread-stout cupcakes at Miette, the adorable patisserie in San Francisco and Oakland; and beer-flavored ice cream at San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe.
At the Half Moon Bay Brewing's brewpub, it's all about the beeramisu, where the mascarpone and stout-soaked ladyfinger dessert has become so popular, chef Gaston Alfaro says he's never taking it off the menu. And when Mountain View's Steins Beer Garden and Restaurant opens in late March, chef Colby Reade will have a Rogue Chocolate Stout Real Beer Float on the menu.
None of this surprises Jackie Dodd, the Los Angeles-based writer behind The Beeroness recipe blog, which includes recipes for everything from pale ale-strawberry sorbet to beer-and-bacon jam.
"The craft beer world is exploding," she says. With an entire generation of 20- and 30-somethings glued to the Food Network -- when they're not downing craft IPAs and tweeting restaurant reviews -- "this is the perfect nexus."
When Pyramid Alehouse held a beer-infused cupcake contest in Walnut Creek two weeks ago, beer lovers and sweets experts from Kara's Cupcakes gathered to determine a winner. The result? Castro Valley beer aficionado Christina Walker's Blueberry Oatmeal Stout Crumble is going on the Pyramid menu. The 20-something nanny and "Cupcake Wars" devotee calls it "seriously, the easiest crowd-pleasing dessert ever." Walker and her best friend, Shelly Saviano, are working on an encore.
"This endeavor has inspired us to keep on cupcaking," Walker says. "We're currently thinking of an Apricot Ale cake with mascarpone cheese, apricots and pistachios."
The contest was embraced by Pyramid Alehouse chef Joe O'Leary, who makes a wide range of ale-inspired desserts, from weissbier beignets and hefeweizen creme anglaise, to mousses, caramels and cakes.
"Beer is made of wheat, and so are cupcakes," he says, "so there's a wide range of directions you can go and a wide range of beer flavors to accommodate the wide range of cupcake flavors."
His favorite dessert is a beer-infused creme brulee.
"I found that the sulfury compounds in the eggs and in the beer really allow for a meshing of flavor," he says. "You can use any beer with custard. You might use a hefeweizen with citrusy notes and add lemon to it. It adds a depth and dimension to desserts people aren't accustomed to."
That said, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When the beer flavor becomes the top note, "people would rather have that out of a glass," O'Leary says. "So it's a balance. Its an underlying earthiness, a low frequency flavor so other flavors can oscillate on top."
Combining beer and dessert was a natural for Half Moon Brewing's Alfaro.
"I've been playing with food since I was a little boy," he says. A year and a half ago, he started thinking about tiramisu. "This is a brewery, let's see what I can do with it!" he remembers thinking. "This is going to taste good, and people are going to talk about it."
Indeed they do. The dessert, which showcases ladyfingers soaked in the chocolate-y tones of Mavericks Paddle Out Stout, then layered with Kahlua and mascarpone, is the brewpub's most popular dessert. Chocolate stout figures prominently in Reade's float at Steins, where the custard for a brown sugar-laced vanilla ice cream is mixed with a dark, rich Rogue Chocolate Stout before being zapped with liquid nitrogen.
The trick, says Bri Dotson, the Seattle pastry chef and homebrewer behind the Beer for Dessert blog, is devising recipes that "pay homage to the delicious beer you sacrifice to make it." So her towering chocolate-frosted stout cake puts the stout flavor "front and center," she says. Homebrewing and pastry "are crafts that combine creativity with scientific processes. I love the complexity of flavors that craft beer brings to the table -- and to the dessert plate."
And the breakfast table too, O'Leary says, "A little hefeweizen in the blueberry pancake batter is delicious."
Beer Dessert Blogs
Looking for more dessert ideas? Here are two recipe-filled beer blogs to get you started:
The Beeroness: Jackie Dodd's blog brims with recipes for appetizers, breakfasts, entrees and desserts, including a Deep-Dish Porter Pecan Pie and Chocolate Stout Waffle Sundae with Chocolate Stout Fudge Sauce. Dodd's new cookbook will be released this fall. Find her at http://thebeeroness.com.
Beer for Dessert: Seattle baker Bri Dotson's blog showcases decadent desserts made with various types of beer, including a Cranberry Upside-Down Cake made with Two Beers Pumpkin Spice Ale and Black and Tan Brownies with Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and Chocolate Dipped Pretzels with Hop Salt. Find her at http://beerfordessert.com.