Oktoberfest: Dark Beers & Chocolate Porter Bread

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As fall moves towards winter and the days get darker, so might your beer of choice. Enter stouts and porters. What is the difference between stouts and porters? Well, there really isn’t one. But there used to be a difference. Or something sort of like that. Let’s take a look back to be sure.

Porters originated in the United Kingdom during the 1700s. They were made with a blending technique known as Three Threads. An old, stale ale forced to mingle with a brown ale and a pale ale resulted in a porter. A strong version of the porter was deemed the stout. Most stouts were destined for export to America or other far-flung destinations.

According to lore, the porter received its name because it was a popular drink among the porters working in Central London during the Industrial Revolution. That is well and grand, but what was it called before it became popular with them? Did it have a name at all, or did a porter just belly up to the bar and ask for a dark beer? I would really like to know.

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Today stouts and porters are no longer the product of three different ales, but rather they are brewed using different varieties of malt to lend them flavor and sweetness. Flavor profiles can range from burnt coffee to chocolate, the latter of which makes for excellent use in baking. A milk stout is a variety that is a bit sweeter due to sugars like lactose that are added during the brewing process. Though dark beers may appear brown or black, some like the popular Guinness claim to be dark ruby red.

That pretty much sums up all of my dark beer knowledge. Recognizing it wasn’t much and looking to avoid a remedial course, I asked my accomplice if she remembered anything significant. What came to her mind was dark beers where once popular drinks among athletes and nursing mothers. Why? Because they were calorie dense. But how many calories did they really pack in?

I once heard someone say drinking a Guinness was like drinking a Snickers bar. But at approximately 125 calories, you could really drink two Guinnesses before it amounted to a candy bar. There is a highly informative and entertaining  Beeramid over at HellaWella that lists out the calories found in many popular beers.

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Picture this scenario. It’s Saturday night, and you are enjoying a lovely six-pack of dark beer with a few equally lovely friends. Come Sunday morning, there is one lone beer standing. Leaving it alone to suffer in the cold depths of the refrigerator seems almost cruel.

Put it out of its misery and use it to bake a lovely chocolate porter bread. Within 90 minutes, 80 of which are spent baking and cooling, you will have a lovely bread to enjoy for brunch. And if you drank five beers the night before, you’re going to need bread anyway. It’s a win-win.

An alternate scenario calls for baking the bread before your evening get together. It makes for the perfect snack. Leftovers keep well in the freezer.

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Looking for something else to do with porters or stouts? Ice cream floats are never a bad idea, and I have few other recipes linked on my Kiss Me, I’m Irish Pinterest board. Want more information? Click on over to CHOW and read, “What’s the Difference Between Stout and Porter?”

And while you are there, please watch an Obsessives video or two. I love them, and I hope you will too. My favorites are the soda pop man and the pickles lady. Interestingly, they do not yet have a beer video up there. So CHOW, call me maybe, I’ve got some people in mind.


4.0 from 1 reviews

Chocolate Porter Bread
  • 2¾ cups flour
  • ⅓ cup cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (12 ounce bottle) porter or stout
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. Create a well within their center and pour in the wet ingredients.
  3. Stir until just combined.
  4. Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9 x 5 loaf pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack.*
* I find this to be the most important step in quick-bread recipes. Try to remove the loaf before it is cool enough, and it falls apart. Leave it in the pan until it is completely cool, and then it does not want to come out at all. I used Founder’s Porter in this recipe.


Oktoberfest: Belgian Beers & Soup

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Today we leave Germany behind and visit Belgium. As I recall, the process to brew both German-style and Belgian-style beers is similar, but the Germans are precise whereas the Belgians just sort of wing it. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time certainly knows I am on board with the Belgian’s style.

In a nutshell, Belgian beer history is steeped in the Catholic Church. For centuries, the Church allowed abbeys to brew beer to earn needed cash. People wanted beer because in those days a low-alcohol version was a substitute for impure drinking water. Today, a number of popular beers once brewed in abbeys continue to be made following those traditional methods.

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What’s more, monks at seven monasteries continue to brew and sell beer to meet their living and maintenance expenses. Six of these seven Trappist breweries are found in Belgium: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren. The remaining, La Trappe, is located just across the border in the Netherlands. An eighth Trappist brewery exists in Germany’s Mariawald, but they have not brewed beer since the 1950s.

It’s been noted Westvleteren brews the best beers in the world. But they are not available in the United States. And the monks only brew the beer when they need money. So I guess I will stick with the second best beer in the world: Bud Light.*

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A fairly tiny country, Belgium boasts the largest number of breweries per capita than any other country. A few Belgian beer types you should try when you visit include:

Dubbels – Malty! Rich and dark as well.

Tripels – Strong! Also brewed with a lot of malt, but the addition of candy sugar lightens its color to a pretty golden hue. It is worth noting the strong refers to alcohol content, not to taste. A good Tripel should actually go down pretty smooth.

Saison – Fruity, but more dry than sweet. They were brewed in the winter for drinking in the summer.

Witbier – A light, spiced “white” beer brewed with wheat.

Labmics and Gueuzes – Delicious. To be discussed in further detail in an upcoming post.

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Let’s talk about food. I picked a recipe for Belgian Beef Stew seen in Ted Allen’s In My Kitchen. At the time, I thought it was a good alternative to the knee-jerk Belgian waffles I considered. Pretzels were pretty obvious for Germany, so I thought I should go off the beaten path with this one. About half-way through, I was seriously reconsidering the waffles.

While I can appreciate the art of cooking that requires one to braise beef in the oven for over two hours, the way in which the recipe was written was overly complicated. It involved cooking meat multiple times and layering things in a Dutch oven to cook both on the stove and in the oven. I was so frustrated with trying to figure out just what should be going on that I recognized recipes like this are why people say they can’t cook.

We all can cook. Though a cookbook might call something Belgian Beef Stew, at the end of the process, it’s a soup. How can you possibly mess up soup? It might boil over, but it won’t burn. It might not taste quite right, but that’s nothing a little salt and pepper can’t fix. I’m fairly certain that unless you throw a handful of  dirt in the pot, you are not going to mess up soup.

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So let’s do as the Belgians do and throw caution to the wind. The original recipe for Belgian Beef Stew calls, obviously, for beef. I just happened to have two cans of fully cooked beef from a local farm near my hometown (which is another story altogether), so I used that. Typically, I do not buy beef, so I do not even know how to suggest a cooking method for the beef  called for in this soup. But since we are all traveling along our own paths with the recipe as a guide in this one, I know you will figure it out.

I happened to throw in some carrots and celery. If you do not want to eat beef, throw in some beans. Vegetarians can omit the meet altogether and substitute vegetable for the beef stock. The important thing here is the focus on is the beer because that will affect the taste of the broth. I used New Belgium’s Abbey. For a lighter broth, you might opt for a golden ale. Serving suggestions include pouring the concoction over boiled potatoes, rice or noodles. I used some of my beer pretzel dough to bake the bowl you see here.

Incidentally, this year’s June/July issue of Saveur included a nice write-up of Belgian beer and breweries. There is also a Conde Nast Traveler article out there about one man’s quest to visit Belgian’s Trappist breweries. Cheers!

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*I’m totally kidding.



Belgian Beef Stew
  • 4 strips bacon, diced
  • 1 pound beef, fully cooked
  • 1 pound yellow onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups Belgian golden ale or Abbey ale
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup carrots (optional)
  • 2 stalks celery (optional)
  1. Brown the bacon in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Once cooked, remove the bacon and allow it to drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  3. Toss the onions into the now empty (except for the bacon grease) pot and cook until soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne and allspice (if using) and cook until fragrant, one to two minutes.
  5. Add the bacon and the (fully cooked) beef.
  6. In a separate bowl, mix the beer with the beef stock, brown sugar and vinegar.
  7. Pour the mixture into the pot to cover the meat and onions.
  8. Bring to a simmer, then add carrots and celery if using.
  9. Allow to simmer for an hour or so.
  10. Discard the bay leaf before serving.


Oktoberfest, German Beers & Pretzels

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Long ago, I mentioned I planned to spend a few days in beer school. Now that school is over and Oktoberfest has just begun, I thought this would be a nice time to share a bit of what I learned. Every few days between today and October 7, I will share a particular beer and a recipe to match. Since this is Oktoberfest, let’s start with German beers.

Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October12, 1810. I will drink a beer for nearly any occasion, but drinking a beer in tribute to love just makes it all the better, don’t you think? If my ongoing obsession with both Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey has taught me anything, it’s that they probably got married because one of them had a nice chunk of land the other one was after.

That aside, the kind royals hosted a festival complete with horse races for all of Bavaria to enjoy. Everyone seemed to like it so much, they added an agricultural festival and did it again the next year. And it just kept going to where we are today. The festival always runs for 16 days and ends the first Sunday in October. To learn more about present-day Oktoberfest, visit the official website.

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An important component of the history of German beer is the beer purity law Reinheitsgebot. In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria was not pleased with the poor quality beer consistently placed in front of him. Too many brewers used cheap grain as a substitute for quality grain. So he did what any man of power might do and passed a law restricting the ingredients used to make beer to malted barley, hops and water. (Yeast was added later.) The result was delicious beer.

Here are a few German beer types, along with my overly simplistic descriptions:

Altbier -  A brown ale that is conditioned for a while longer than normal so it doesn’t taste so fruity.

Bock – A strong lager. It is lagered (stored in a cold place) for a while longer than normal so it’s not so in-your-face with taste. In my extracurricular activities after school I learned the goat is the mascot of Bocks. Something about the beer was originally brewed only during the astrological phase of the Capricorn? I was born under the sign of the goat, so I guess I should like these beers.

Dopplebock - An an even stronger lager! And darker than a Bock. I suppose this makes the Dopplebock the strong, dark and handsome one in the family.

Eisbock – The brewing process includes freezing off a portion of the water, so in a sense, this beer is more concentrated than others.

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Hefeweizen - Typically brewed with at least 50 percent wheat. The Hefe portion of the name indicates the yeast, and the Weizen means wheat. These beers look kinda cloudy.

Dunkelweizen - Also a wheat beer, but darker than a Hefeweizen.

Weizen-Bock – The pimped out version of the Dunkelweizen.

Schwarzbier – A black beer, though its color does not necessarily indicate its heaviness. These beers are actually quite light and flavorful.

Though I have done my best to provide accurate information, please note I continue to have a very simplistic understanding of the world of beer.

Speaking of World of Beer, Preston at Charlotte’s South End location graciously put the summer beer school program on for eight consecutive Mondays. Any errors, omissions or out-right butcherings of the information he provided and I have re-shared are most definitely my own. If you like beer-related tweets, you can Follow Preston on Twitter. Ladies in Charlotte who want to stay up to date on local beer education opportunities should Like the Charlotte Beer Babes Facebook page.

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Let’s move on to the food. Nothing says German food like a really nice pretzel! More accurately, nothing says German food I can make like a nice soft pretzel.You many recall I made soft pretzels last winter, but these are the with-beer versions. I also made a cheddar beer dip for those of you who are like me and need something to go along with your soft pretzels.

I used local Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s OMB Copper for both the pretzels and the dip. This beer has quite a few fans across Charlotte. I have heard “OMB’s Copper is my favorite” proclaimed in settings that range from the dinner table to yoga class. I myself do not care for it. It’s one of those things I really want to like because I think I should, but when it comes down to it, I simply don’t. This characteristic actually makes it excellent for cooking purposes because it doesn’t pain me to pour it into something I’m going to eat instead of wanting to pour it down my throat.

As I was checking to make sure pretzels do indeed have origins in Germany, I learned a French or Italian monk is actually given credit for inventing the pretzel. But since German immigrants (today known as the Pennsylvania Dutch) introduced soft pretzels to America, I though this was an acceptable recipe to kick off Oktoberfest. For a different twist, bake the pretzel dough into small rounds to use as sandwich buns or large rounds to use as bowls. Fill them with cheddar beer soup, or simply wait until my next Oktoberfest post when I provide another beer-meets-soup recipe and discuss monks in much more detail. Cheers/Prost!

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Soft Beer Pretzels with Cheddar Beer Dip
Serves: 12
  • For the Pretzels
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1, ¼ ounce package active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon salt plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1 to 1¼ cups brown ale, room temperature
  • 3¾ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • For the Dip
  • 1½ cups beer
  • 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Place warm water and yeast in a large bowl and allow to stand for five minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, olive oil, salt beer and 3¾ cups of flour and stir until dough is soft. Continue to add flour or beer as needed until dough comes together.
  3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 6-8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
  4. Place the dough in lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic or a clean towel. Allow to rise for one hour. The dough should double in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 pieces.
  6. Roll each piece into a rope, about 20 inches long and twist into a pretzel shape.
  7. While you shape the pretzels, bring the water and the baking soda to a boil.
  8. Dip the shaped pretzels into the boiling solution for a few seconds, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  9. Cover the pretzels and allow to rise another 15 minutes.
  10. Brush their tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with salt.
  11. Bake at 425 degrees until lightly golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  12. To make the dip, pour the beer into a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  13. Add the cheese and stir until melted.
  14. Reduce the heat to medium low and thicken with corn starch.
  15. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to use a stand mixer and the dough hook to knead the pretzel dough. The pretzels will keep in an air tight plastic container for several days. I ended up using 3¾ cups of flour and 1 cup plus three tablespoons of beer to get the dough the consistency I desired.