Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beer Jellies

By Jeff Burns

There is an old saying:  Beer is liquid bread.  There’s no doubt that beer has been just as important in history as bread, and just as ubiquitous.  Beer was first brewed thousands of years ago by ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and some form of beer or cider has been commonly consumed by people of all ages in cultures around the world ever since, more commonly consumed than water in some places and times. In the United States, there’s been a huge boom in homebrew and craft beer making, and beer lovers have more choices than ever before.  So, when my wife and I first saw jellies made from beer at an event a few years ago, it made sense.  We make jellies from fruit juices, why not beer jellies?   Fortunately, fellow Histocrat Margaret Duncan and her husband David are homebrew hobbyists and graciously offered to supply varieties, including historic recipes like a porter from 1744and a pilsner from the early 20th century, for our experiments.

We experimented and tasted and sold our products at farmers markets.  They taste good and attract a lot of attention because they’re unique.  They’re great on bread, just like fruit jellies and jams, but I’ve also used them extensively in cooking, adding them to sauces and chili and for marinating and grilling vegetables, seafood, and meats.  Whenever we find something different in a beer or cider, our first thought is “what kind of jelly would that make?”

When we started, we read a few blogs and looked at some recipes, and I came up with a basic recipe that seems to work for all types of beer and for hard ciders as well.  (I would also use the same recipe for soft drinks.)  Some beer jelly makers add various ingredients and spices to complement the beers’ flavors, but ours have been pretty simple so far.

How do you do it?  You need two regular bottles or cans or one big bottle, 1 box of pectin, and 3 cups of sugar. As with any canning process, you start by sterilizing and preparing jars and lids.

You need a deep stainless steel pot. The beer will make a fast and furious foam, and the cooking part is very quick. If you don’t give it your full attention, you’ll end up with beer foam all over your stovetop and a great beer-y smell throughout the kitchen.  In the pot, mix the beer and pectin.  Bring to a boil, constantly stirring.  When it’s a rapid boil, add the sugar, bring back to a boil for a minute, and you’re done.  Ladle or pour it into the jars and process for 10 – 15 minutes.  Most of the time, you skim the foam off the top before putting jelly into jars, but I leave the foam on beer jellies.  That means pouring takes a little longer, but the jars look like they have suds on top. After processing, it has to set. The setting time varies. Setting is often the bane of jellymakers.  Some jellies firm up quickly, some don’t, and some have to be re-done.  Generally, I’ve found that ciders work well, and lighter beers might take longer than stouter beers.

As far as taste goes, the jelly is remarkably true to the beer or cider, and of course the alcohol content is cooked off in the process, leaving the flavors behind.  Try making your own or check your local farmers market; I bet you’ll find a vendor.  Enjoy!

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