Best Beer for Beef Stew (Traditional Favorites & Fun Alternatives!)

Did you know you can do more with beer than simply drink it? Beer can be a great ingredient in the kitchen, and some kinds make excellent additions in cooking, especially stews. 

Most stews have rich, savory, and complex qualities, and that is why stouts, porters, and other dark beers work best in complementing the ingredients and flavors in red-meat stews. Lagers can be used for lighter proteins, such as poultry- or bean-based recipes. When making beef stew, the meat can be marinated overnight or added directly to the pot.

Keep reading for more on why people add beer to stew, the best kinds of beer to use, and some specific stew recipes that call for beer. 

What does adding beer to stew do?

Stews are built around protein, vegetables, seasonings, and liquids. Water, broth, and alcohol (such as wine and beer) are popular additions to stew recipes.

Adding beer to stew enhances and builds layers of flavor. Using a full-bodied, dark beer with savory notes pairs well with stronger, more robust meats, like beef, venison, elk, or bison. Lagers can be used for lighter stews to provide a lightly floral, mellow note to poultry, seafood, or beans. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is to use a beer that you would enjoy drinking on its own.

As the beer cooks in the stew, its flavors will infuse into the other ingredients. In addition, the beer will cook down at least a little, which concentrates the flavors. If you’re using a beer you do not enjoy, it’s unlikely it’ll make a delicious stew. 

Is beer a common ingredient in stew?

Beer is frequently found in stew recipes.

Beer has considerably more flavor than using water. It also contributes to the color of the stew, particularly if the simmering liquid gets cooked down quite a bit. Beer provides depth, complexity, and earthiness to hearty, comforting stew recipes.

Possibly one of the best-known examples of beer in a stew recipe is Guinness Stew. There are many variations, but the basic recipe is an Ireland-inspired beef stew with onions, potatoes, and Guinness.

What kind of beer is best to use with beef stew?

While many cooks will specify the style of beer to use in their recipes, there are a few styles that consistently work well in most stews.

The styles of beer that work best in beef stews include: 

  • Stouts
  • Porters
  • Brown ales
  • Dark lagers
  • Medium- to full-bodied lagers
  • Amber ales

Below, we’ll detail why each of these styles works so well with stew recipes. 

Stouts

Stouts are made with black unmalted barley, which lends a very dark appearance and a slightly nutty, roasted, molasses-y flavor profile. Like Guinness, most stouts are between 4 and 6% ABV.

Porters

Porters are also dark in color with mild grain notes and chocolatey flavors. They do not often exhibit boppy bitterness and are usually between 4.5 and 6% ABV.

Brown ales

Brown ales are a deep copper to dark brown color with notes of toast and caramel. American brown ales are usually hoppier than their English counterparts. Expect an ABV between 4.2 and 6.3%.

Dark lagers

There’s a decent amount of variation in dark lagers, which can range from nutty (such as a Czech dark lager) to chocolatey (Dunkels) to adjuncts of smoke, wood, or fruit. Due to this variety, dark lagers can range from 4.5% ABV to hovering around 7%. Dark lagers can be dark brown to deep black.

Medium- to full-bodied lagers

These lagers can provide a mellow yet spicy element to a stew. They’re straw to golden in color, with notes of caramel, crusty bread, and nuts. Most fall between 3 and 6% ABV.

Amber ales

Amber ales are citrusy and malty with an ABV of 4.4-6.1%. Amber ales have a golden-red appearance and piney hop qualities.

Can you use a lager instead of an ale in beef stew?

You can absolutely use a full-bodied or dark lager in a beef stew.

The robust flavors of full-bodied and dark lagers will complement the red meat well.

Even floral hoppiness in a lager can echo herbal, vegetal qualities found in other ingredients in the stew.

How to add beer to beef stew

If you already have a go-to beef stew recipe, there are a couple of ways you can add beer to deepen and intensify the flavor.

The first way you can add beer to beef stew is by marinating the beef in beer before starting the cooking process. Another way to add beer to beef stew is by adding it directly to the pot while cooking the other ingredients. You can use either of these methods with any style of beer.

Keep reading for more details on both methods of adding beer to a beef stew.

Marinating the beef in beer

You can marinate beef in beer for a minimum of four hours and a maximum of twenty-four hours ahead of cooking the stew. For best results, completely cover the beef in beer and refrigerate. This can be done in a shallow pan, left covered in the fridge, or in a gallon Ziploc bag. 

By marinating the beef in beer ahead of cooking, you’ll infuse the beer flavors and moisture into the meat creating a flavorful, moist cut in the stew. 

Other marinating flavors, such as brown sugar, mustard, chiles, herbs, and seasonings, can be added to the beer. Try to match the flavor profile of the stew if putting together your own marinade. 

Adding beer to the stew itself

To effectively build flavors and get the most out of the ingredients as possible, many cooks use beer to deglaze the pot after searing the meat and vegetables.

Here’s how to add beer to your beef stew using the deglazing technique: 

  1. In a hot pan, sear the meat and vegetables in oil according to the recipe. 
  2. Remove these ingredients once they’ve developed a nice, brown crust.
  3. The bottom of the pan should also be darker (though not burnt!). There may even be stuck-on bits of vegetables or meat. This is called fond. 
  4. With the heat still on, carefully pour beer into the pot, stirring and scraping up that fond into the beer for maximum flavor. 
  5. Allow the beer to reach a simmer before adding the meat, vegetables, and whatever other ingredients the recipe calls for. 

You can also add beer directly to the other ingredients without deglazing; however, you run the risk of leaving a lot of flavor on the bottom of the pot. 

Beef stew recipes featuring beer

Now we’re to it: beef stew recipes using beer!

Take a look at these two beef stew recipes: one using Guinness (a stout) and the other using an Amber lager. Remember to choose a beer that you like to drink on its own before making these recipes. 

Guinness Beef Stew

This Guinness Stew Recipe yields a large pot of thick, hearty beef stew. Notice that the recipe uses Guinness to loosen up the delicious beef pieces that would otherwise be lost to the bottom of the pot.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 pounds beef chuck roast
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, roughly diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 (12 ounce) bottle Guinness beer
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 3 large carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stock pot and add half the beef, being careful not to crowd the pan. Sear on all sides before removing pieces to a clean plate; set aside.
  2. Repeat with the remaining beef.
  3. Reduce heat before adding onions. Saute for 3-5 minutes in the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and briefly cook, about one minute, being careful not to let the garlic burn. 
  4. Add the flour, stirring frequently, about one minute.
  5. Carefully pour in the entire bottle of Guinness, stirring from the bottom of the pan continuously to scrape up any fond. 
  6. Add the remaining ingredients (including the reserved beef) and reduce the heat to low, allowing the stew to simmer, covered, for about an hour and a half or until the vegetables and meat are tender.
  7. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste.
  8. Serve with a garnish of fresh parsley.

Amber Beef Stew

This Amber Beef Stew recipe calls for a bottle of amber lager (they recommend the Abita Amber Lager) to add another layer of flavor to the stew.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped sweet onion (about 1 onion)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle amber lager
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can beef broth
  • 2 cups ½-inch-chopped peeled sweet potatoes
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley, crushed red pepper

Method

  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add half the beef, being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook until browned on all sides. 
  2. Remove beef from pot and set aside. Repeat with remaining beef.
  3. In the same pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, thyme, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder; cook until onion is softened and translucent.
  4. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring frequently, until color deepens, about 3 minutes. 
  5. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, until flour is golden brown and has lost the raw flour smell, 3 to 5 minutes. 
  6. Increase heat to high and add beer, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
  7. Bring to a boil, and add beef, broth, and sweet potatoes. 
  8. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until meat and sweet potato are tender and liquid has thickened, about 45 minutes. 
  9. Garnish with parsley and red pepper, if desired.

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