The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl is as much about beer pairing as cooking with beer; many of the recipes don’t actually contain beer, but nearly all offer suggestions for the best craft beers to drink with the dish. Holl, a beer journalist whose credits include the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, explains in his introduction that he believes beer pairs better with food than wine does.

“Beer is so varied, so complex, and offers such a cornucopia of flavors that it finds ways to complement, contrast with, and elevate all cuisine—from the lowly chip and dip to the most perfectly aged steak,” he writes. “There are so many different beer tastes that it’s actually more flexible than wine when it comes to creating the perfect pairing.”

Craft beer is currently experiencing a renaissance in the U.S., a fact that Holl discusses in the introduction and Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, brings up in his foreword. After describing the robust brewing scene that existed in this country at the turn of the 20th century, Oliver writes, “Over the twentieth century we turned cheese into plastic, bread into chemical sponge, and beer back into water. They called it ‘progress,’ but something was missing: flavor. . . . American beer became simple fizz, largely flavorless, another highly engineered modern food product, sparkling the most pallid yellow.” In the 1980s, however, interest in both beer and food began to increase again. “Today, the United States can boat the most vibrant beer culture in the world,” Oliver writes. “So the question is simple: we’ve got great beer and we’ve got great food—how do we put them together and have a good time doing it?”

The answer, of course (according to Oliver), is this cookbook. And you could certainly do worse: the book is beautifully photographed, the recipes are clearly explained and mostly fairly simple, and Holl’s brief descriptions of the featured breweries are well written and to the point. The recipes are from brewpubs, breweries, chefs, and “beer-centric restaurants” from all over the country, and cover a wide range of categories, including brunch, appetizers, sauces and spreads, salads, sandwiches and burgers, soups and stews, entrees, side dishes, and desserts. There’s a solid 300 pages of recipes, each featuring beer pairing suggestions and a paragraph about the brewery that created the dish, followed by several pages of suggested road trips and beer festivals.

The brewery descriptions, only a few sentences apiece, offer essential facts about each business and are fun to read. I had no idea, for example, that the von Trapp family (the one somewhat fictionalized in The Sound of Music) had ended up in Vermont, where the youngest child now runs the Trapp Family Lodge and brewery (the recipe in the cookbook is for “Maria’s Favorite Linzertorte”). Or that in 2000 the ACLU helped Flying Dog Brewery successfully sue the state of Colorado for the right to print the slogan “Good Beer. No Shit.” on its bottles.

There are several local breweries included—Half Acre, Haymarket, Piece, Two Brothers—and several others within a few hours of Chicago (Galena, Sun King, Black Swan, Bell’s, Dark Horse, New Holland, Lakefront, Sprecher). Chicago isn’t included in the suggested destinations for a road trip, sadly, but Milwaukee is—which seems only fair given its history as a brewing city.

Holl will be in town this weekend signing copies of his book; a list of events is below (only the first is a joint appearance), followed by one of the recipes from the book. I haven’t had a chance to try out any of the recipes yet, but I’m intrigued by several that involve spent grain, like the one below.

Beer & Cheese Smackdown: Local beer expert Randy Mosher (Tasting Beer, Radical Brewing) will compete against John Hall to find the best beer and cheese pairing. Attendees can taste the results and vote on a winner; both Mosher and Hall will also sign their respective books. Fri 9/13, 5-7 PM, the Craft Beer Temple, 3185 N. Elston, 773-754-0907

Sat 9/14, 3 PM, Anderson’s Two Doors East, 123 W. Jefferson, Naperville, 630-355-2665

Sat 9/14, 6 PM, the Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665

Oatmeal Cranberry Spent-Grain Cookies
Excerpted from The American Craft Beer Cookbook (c) John Holl. Photography (c) Lara Ferroni. Used with permission of Storey Publishing
Obtaining spent grain is not difficult. Brewers are faced with an abundance of the nutrient-rich mash and are usually happy to help it find a second life. Just call your local brewery and ask. For this recipe, a caramel or a lighter wheat malt will work best. These versatile cookies are also vegan-friendly, high in fiber and healthy oils, and great pairings for a spiced beer, a pumpkin ale, or even an oatmeal stout.

  • Lara Ferroni
  • Oatmeal cranberry spent-grain cookies

1½ cups spent grain
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup crushed walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a large baking sheet.
2. Mix the spent grain, brown sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the olive oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Add the oats, cranberries, and walnuts, and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Roll walnut-size balls of the dough in your hand and place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to three days.

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Beer pairing suggestions:
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale
Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
New Holland The Poet
Ninkasi Oatis
Portneuf Valley Midnight Satin
Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout
Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.