Sour Beer Soda Bread

Gueuze and gueuze soda breadDuring the week I spotted a Twitter conversation about bread, and it came to soda bread and how to make it if you don’t have buttermilk handy. Buttermilk is difficult stuff to get hold of sometimes – we couldn’t even find any in the mahoosive Bar Hill Tesco “extra”… but Waitrose in St. Ives came to the rescue. I’ve struck this problem before. Soda bread is a very quick alternative to yeasty bread… and while I prefer the latter I do have a place in my heart for the convenience of the former. In the past I have resorted to using milk acidified with a squeeze of lemon juice. However, thought I, how about sour beer?

Part of the action that makes soda bread work is the combination of acidity and bicarbonate of soda, without the acidity you’d just not get enough *puff* to lighten the crumb. But buttermilk isn’t just about acidity – it has a richness and creaminess that contribute to the soft texture of bread… so any old acidic liquid isn’t going to work. Thus I’ve worked out a mix of milk and beer that does the job.

First step… a touch of total nerdery… what’s the pH of buttermilk? It turns out that for the buttermilk I bought it was 4.4… so I aimed to replicate this with a beer and milk mixture. I chose to use Gueuze 1882 from Brouwerij Girardin and Kriek from Brouwerij Boon for this experiment – and they turned out to both have a pH of 3.6. Mixed with milk to a ratio of 5:3 (beer:milk, i.e. 125g of beer plus 75g milk) this yielded a 4.4 pH in a creamy-curdled milky mixture.

Buttermilk pH

Buttermilk pH

Kriek pH

Kriek pH

Gueuze pH

Gueuze pH

I made 3 loaves to this template, based on a HFW recipe on the River Cottage website:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 200g liquid
    • i.e. buttermilk or 75ml milk + 125ml gueuze/kriek/lambic of your choice.
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5tsp salt

Soda bread ingredients

Mix the ingredients together quickly, adjust with milk or flour as needed to make a smooth and slightly tacky dough – it should be quite soft. Do not overwork the dough. I found the buttermilk mix needed a touch of milk to wet it and the beer mixes both needed a touch of flour to dry them. Very lightly knead to shape, pop onto a baking tray, slice an X across the top of each loaf, then into a 200C (gas 6) oven. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes – until you can insert a knife into the loaf and feel no resistance drawing it out again.

Soda bread

The end result was fantastic. The guezue and kriek loaves are both soft and well “puffed” with a similar crumb to the buttermilk one. If anything they’re a little less soft and just a little less risen – with just a touch more rubbery bounce in them. Adding more fat could help – using a 1:1 beer milk ratio might be enough. When eaten warm you’d not notice this at all however – and the beer ones really shine when warm, the beers are present in flavour and even more so in aroma.

Crumb detail - buttermilk, gueuze, kriek

Crumb detail – buttermilk, gueuze, kriek

Even when nibbled on cold a few hours later the flavours of the beers are present, subtle yet clear. The kriek one especially injects a ghost of cherry to the sinuses as you chew it. But for maximum effect I suggest enjoying fresh and warm with a generous spread of butter.

And that, my friends, was breakfast... or brunch? It's OK to have breakfast at 1PM on a Sunday, right?

And that, my friends, was breakfast… or brunch? It’s OK to have breakfast at 1PM on a Sunday, right?

Oaky Beer Chilli Sauce

Centre: Burning Embers, clockwise from top: Poblano, Cayenne, Serrano, mutant from the Pobalano seed packet.

Centre: Burning Embers, clockwise from top: Poblano, Cayenne, stunted Chocolate Habanero, Serrano, mutant from the Pobalano seed packet.

I harvested all the remaining chillies from my indoor chilli plants as they were starting to dry out a bit. What do you do with half a kilo of chillies… well, you make chilli sauce. Obviously. We have dried chillies hanging all over the place already. As recipes go this is pretty non-replicable due to the use of a motley collection of chilli varieties – but as a blueprint it should work for any chillies.

The magic ingredient: beer with a bit of “barrel” in it. In my case Brain’s Boilermaker – Welsh Whisky-Barrel Aged IPA… a beer that I really did not enjoy very much. Not my thing at all I’m afraid. I had bought two bottles and the other one was skulking around unloved in the back of the cupboard. A distinct attribute of the beer has is a vanilla-ish whisky-oaky flavour. This, thought I, could work quite well in a sauce… vanilla-oak chilli sauce? Sorted!




  • 600g of fresh chillies – 500g once once stems removed
    • The “power” of your chilli sauce will depend greatly on the varieties used. I have mostly “Explosive Ember” (a stunning edible-ornamental), plus quite a bit of Cayenne, and a handful of Serranos and Poblanos. This makes what normal folk may call a “medium” sauce, it has a good bite but won’t blow any heads off.
  • 440g (1 tin) of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 275g (2 medium) roughly chopped brown onion
  • 45g (4 big cloves) roughly chopped garlic
  • 400ml cider vinegar
  • 330ml oaky beer – 1 small bottle
    • I used Brain’s Boilermaker, but there are many options out there. Any of those much-reviled Innis & Gunn beers would be interesting to try, for example. Look at it this way: it’s a cheap way to add interest!
  • 1tsp black pepper – freshly ground
  • 3tbsp/30g currants – to add a little extra body & umami
  • Salt – to taste, add at end – I actually didn’t bother.


Prepare Chillies

Prepare Chillies

Purée Chillies

Purée Chillies

Prepare Other Solids

Prepare Other Solids

Purée Other Solids

Purée Other Solids

Simple. Put all the non-liquid ingredients into a food processor and “whiz” to a paste. I actually did this in two separate batches, chillies first and then the rest – because I couldn’t be bothered getting out my big food processor. Combine the paste with the liquids in a suitable sized saucepan, bring to a simmer and simmer until a desirable “saucy” consistency is reached. This took me about an hour. The consistency is such that a spoonful will slightly heap. Finally blitz the sauce to as smooth a paste as possible – for this job I used my trusty stick-blender.

Before Simmer

Before Simmer

After Simmer

After Simmer

This sauce should last at least a week in the fridge, probably a month. If you pop it straight from simmering into sterilised jars or bottles then it should keep in the cupboard for months. (Or to be certain you could pasteurise it once bottled too – this is what I did.)

With Steak

With Steak

Verdict? I was surprised how well this worked to be honest. I was a bit concerned by using such a high proportion of “Explosive Ember” chillies, which are thin skinned and very seedy. I did eat a couple whole before doing this and they proved to be pleasantly flavoured and not too bitter, otherwise I’d not have tried. The sauce is rich, has a good kick to it, and I’m certain I can “taste the wood” – per se. The vanilla-oaky flavour that I didn’t enjoy so much in the beer works much better when translated into the context of a chilli sauce.

In practice so far the sauce works well with spring rolls and grilled steak. Personally I’m looking forward to slathering a burger with it, or a sausage-inna-bun. It’ll be delicious.

After I had put everything into one big pot I mentally kicked myself, thinking: ah, dammit, I should have done two batches – one with beer and one with water. That way I’d be able to determine the taste impact of the beer with more confidence. This time next year… expect an update on this one!

Kitchen Experiments: British IPA Tempura

Deep frying tempuraI’ve had it in my mind for a while to try “IPA Tempura” and I bought a few bottles of IPA-type beers to do this with. About a month ago, finally, the experiment happened. From an original six IPAs I picked three to try this with (to make it more manageable when only cooking for two people, plus I’d drunk one of the original six already… oops.)

The IPA-type-critters I selected were:

  • Durham Brewery “Bombay 106″ (7.0%) – styled as a “traditional IPA” this uses pale malts and a lot of British hops, it is dry-hopped with Goldings. What we get in the mouth is a big earthy IPA – full of peppery spice and resiny bitterness. Not your brash new-world hop-aroma-explosion, something far more cultured. Imagine it sitting in a big old leather chair, reading a leather clad tome, wearing a dinner jacket and smoking a pipe.
    Pale Malts – British Hops – EARTHY IPA
  • Hardknott “Infra Red” (6.5%) – a pretty punchy IPA-type beer, it describes itself as “oxymoronic” being a “red IPA”. Infra Red has been one of my favourite beers since I discovered it some years past. I think it may have changed a little through time, becoming just a little cleaner & lighter, less full figured – but it is certainly still a head-turner. Anyway – a rich beer with a powerful hop hit using some new-world hops.
    Darker Malt Body – American Hop Punch – RICH RUBY IPA
  • Williams Brothers “Joker” (5%) – this is more a what I consider a “British IPA”, it takes on the big American hops and combines them with a crisp clean pale malt base without the big sweet caramel note present in a lot of US IPAs. Yanks call it “balanced”, I call it beer that tastes like Werther’s Originals. That said, this Joker was a bit on the lighter side as far as the hops go – almost more of a hoppy golden ale than an IPA. Nimble, light on its feet, a beer that can very easily slip past you leaving the merest whiff of its presence.
    Pale Malts – US-Hop Dominant – CRISP LIGHT IPA

Beer Tempura Test Subjects

Now unfortunately I didn’t get a really brilliant British “pale” IPA, my favourite variety – crisp, low sweetness, light malt profile, about 6%, and super-charged with hops. This was the sort of beer I had, for some reason, expected the Joker to be… so I was a little disappointed. But oh well!


Vegetables to tempuraThings to tempura…
For “tempura-ing” I have “candy” beetroot (from my own garden), red pepper (capsicum), baby corn, carrots, and spring onions plus some defrosted frozen “baby squid”. To prepare:

  • Slice beetroot into 2mm thick slices – best to use a mandolin.
  • Slice pepper into 2mm thick rings – mandolin again.
  • Halve the baby corns.
  • Halve the spring onions lengthways and separate tops from bottoms.
  • “Matchstick” the carrot and tie in small bundles with some garlic chives.
  • Pull tentacles from squiddies, and open out and halve the bodies and give them a light cross-hatch scoring across the inner flesh.

Make sure all of the above is dry, pat dry cut surfaces and rest on paper towels.

You want to get your oil on the stove before preparing the batter. Please be careful with hot oil, it is dangerous and over-heated oil can combust! Remember: Don’t drink and fry! You really want to have a suitable thermometer to monitor your oil temperature.

I’m using a litre of sunflower oil (under £2 worth), but any oil suitable for deep-frying will do the job. Use plenty and put it in a saucepan/pot that leaves plenty of space. Preferably on a burner at the back of the stove. Get the oil in the heat – your target temperature is 180°C.

If you have a deep-fryer this is all much simpler!

Preparing tempura batterBatter…
One of the well known “secrets” of tempura is cold batter. Some recipes call for icy cold water others for everything being at fridge temperature. So two hours before preparation I put a bag of ordinary plainflour in the freezer. I put my eggs and beers into the fridge (~4°C). Then 15 minutes before production I popped my beers into the freezer too. It’s going to be one FRIGID batter.

Batter ratio based on a single large egg:

  • 1 large egg
  • 120g plain flour
  • 190ml beer/water/liquid

I have also made a “control” batter that uses ice-cold water instead of beer.

To mix the batter simply put the egg into a suitable bowl, whisk it until combined, whisk in the beer (gently, it’ll “fizz”), then mix in the flour. The flour should be very loosely mixed in – a bit lumpy is what you want. To aid this, and to seem more authentic, my mixing tool of choice is chopsticks. :)

Your oil is at 180°C… your batter is mixed (if there is any delay pop your batter in the fridge, but aim to have no delay), your tempura-bits are prepared, it is fry o’clock!

Quickly and carefully dunk an item in the batter then drop it into the hot oil. It is good to have the item a bit drippy, this adds to the tempura effect. Do a few items in quick succession – do not over-crowd. Let them fry for about a minute, then flip and give another minute before fishing out and putting on paper towel. Let the oil return to 180°C before doing the next batch.

For raw seafood that isn’t sashimi-grade you may want to fry for a little longer, experiment and work out what the “sweet spot” is. For thin small/squid like mine I think a minute extra is plenty.

Tempura vegetables - close upEnjoy!
Tempura is best enjoyed right away. If cooking for others aim to be serving straight from fryer-to-table in batches. For a more social time hang out in your kitchen with some beers. (Please be sensible with the beer whilst hot oil is in action!)

A bit of a dipping sauce is normally served with tempura – a simple one combines soy sauce umami with the zing of lemon juice or rice vinegar. Based on this I knocked up a sauce for each beer. About 4 tablespoons of the beer, 1 of soy, 1 teaspoon lemon juice (from a bottle alas), and a splash of rice vinegar “to taste”.

So – do we have a winner here? Not a clear one. Kat prefers the Joker based batter, and on the topic of the sauce “none of them” – if pressed she preferred the Bombay 106 as she enjoyed the decent beery hit it gave. I’m told I should have put less beer in the sauces :( Kat also says the Infra Red would probably be more suited to something of a pakora … there’s an idea for next time! :)

Each batter definitely had its own character – note no seasoning was used, no salt and no pepper – the dipping sauces provided some seasoning but my tasting of the batters didn’t use the sauces. All three beer batters gave a distinct “seasoned” edge, an umami, that the plain batter lacked. They also coloured up more than the plain batter – possibly due to sugars in the beer (the Infra Red batter was always noticeably darker – not surprising). The Joker batter simply tasted like a damn good batter, not specifically beery and with no bitterness. The Infra Red batter was the most true to its beer – mainly a malt profile thing, but also with a touch of hop bitterness & resin coming through. The Bombay 106 was the most definitively “beery” batter – it has a beery flavour, and the most distinct bitterness. By comparison to all three the plain batter was a bit… dull, really. None of the beer batters seemed to be better than the other for “tempura effect”, however the plain one was a little less “puffy” and more authentic in appearance.

Tempura vegetables laid out with sauces and beers

As for the dipping sauces – they had very similar characteristics, but were all more noticeably beer-based. The Joker was a smooth sauce that complemented all batters. The Infra Red was my preference – it tasted unmistakably of the beer and needed to be used in moderation. Whilst the Bombay 106 tasted like serious “beery soy”, and I didn’t really like it that much.

Were I to serve a beer battered thing to someone based off this experience which would I choose? I’m not sure – I think it would be down to context. If I simply wanted a good versatile batter the Joker is ahead of the game here – because it is a pretty normal beer with enough body to beef up the batter but simple and light enough to not distract or clash. I’m not really sure why or how it is an “IPA” but it is a good beer. If I want to showcase a beer edge then it is the other two that have that edge, with the Bombay 106 being suitable for both the squid and the vegetables. The Infra Red batter was specifically Infra Red flavoured and was a good complement to the vegetables, but was too much for the squid. If I was trying to highlight specific beer flavours matched against the beer in question it’d be the full Infra Red set I’d pick (batter, sauce, and beer).

As for pairing with tempura-everything? Again the Joker wins here. It isn’t anything crazy or different on the beer-front, but it has a good body and flavour to match the battered goodies – complementing without overwhelming.

There’s no clear winner here – but that was never the point! The point is beer batter isn’t just beer batter – the beer you choose is important. I’d be interested to know what successes, and perhaps failures, others have had with beer batters.

Right now I’m wondering how a stout would go in a batter for sweeter vegetables. Or perhaps for deep-fried black pudding… or haggis? *SQUELCH* *POP* *BOINGBOINGBOING*[1]

[1] …the sound of my heart tearing free of my chest, popping out my mouth, and bouncing off into the distance whilst making sad whimpering sounds.

Tempura squid