Black cod brûlée
  • Black cod brûlée
  • Image by Lara Ferroni. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.
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At the same time as I was getting into craft beer, I was discovering the amazingly wide-ranging culinary arts. Because of this brilliant accident, the thought of using good beer as an ingredient and finding proper pairings has never seemed out of place to me. As lamented earlier this week, however, it’s taken the rest of the world some time to catch up to what I took for granted in the nineties. Fortunately, there are people out there providing high quality examples of how good food can be when beer is brought into the equation. One of those individuals is John Holl, the author of the new instructional piece, The American Craft Beer Cookbook.

Holl has spent the past several years visiting breweries across the country---over 900…and I thought I was busy (oh yeah, I am). During his travels, our paths have crossed many times. We first met at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009 and, being near the same age and quite similar in our approaches to beer, we gravitated toward each other and shared many conversations on our shared passion as well as the national magazine we were both contributing to, The Beer Connoisseur. (Unfortunately, conversations about that publication now revolve around the thousands of dollars they owe us and other writers who helped them get a foothold in the industry.)

Sake-braised beef cheeks

Over the years, I’ve followed Holl’s writings and marveled at his work ethic, journalistic integrity, writing style, and ability to deliver information in tandem with his contagious enthusiasm for the subject he writes about. His skills and diligence led to him being named the editor of All About Beer Magazine last year and they couldn’t have made a better choice. He is, in short, my favorite beer writer, and someone I’m proud to call a colleague—especially after seeing his new cookbook.

For some time, I’ve pondered the idea of doing a craft beer-centric cookbook by collaborating with breweries. Holl’s book is so complete, I almost feel like I can put any future project of this nature out of mind. It really is that good. I’d like to think part of that has to do with me recommending San Diego breweries for him to conspire with, but even without my help, he’d have knocked this out of the park.

Holl has compiled 155 recipes from bars, brewpubs, brewery-restaurants, and brewery personnel. Those dishes include appetizers, sauces, salads, soups, sandwiches, entrées, desserts, and more, including a cool chapter called “Beer and Brunch” stocked with lip-smackers like “Super Ultra Free-Range” pancakes, Scotch eggs, breakfast enchiladas, and beermosas.

Other standout recipes vary from straightforward offerings like “Hopocalypse” ceviche, chicken wings with bacon barbecue sauce, braised beef short ribs, and beer floats; to more out-there but tantalizing fare such as pickled hop shoots, Bourbon sweet potato tarts with imperial stout sauce, roasted venison saddle with Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock mole, roasted pheasant with pumpernickel bread pudding and cranberry sauce, black cod brûlée, pale ale pineapple brown sugar cupcakes, and deconstructed banana meringue pie with dulce de leche, almond wafer crumble and chocolate powder.

Arrogant Bastard Ale avocado tacos

Local operations that tossed recipes into the chef’s hat include Hess Brewing Company (sake-braised beef cheeks from Toronado San Diego chef and gastronome-about-town Nate Soroko), Karl Strauss Brewing Company (duck chiles relleno from chef Gunther Emathinger), Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey (maple-orange grilled pork loin and truffled potatoes from co-owner Vince Marsaglia), and Stone Brewing Co. (Arrogant Bastard Ale avocado tacos from former executive chef Alex Carballo).

But there is more to the book than just the recipes. Holl offers suggestions of beers to pair with each dish, providing varieties from around the country so readers won’t be limited by lack of availability. He also tackles topics like caring for the beer and the manner in which you serve it to ensure an exceptional tasting experience. And, in the jet-setting spirit of the book, he has a section in the back of it that provides beer touring for prominent beer regions, including San Diego County.

The book is on sale now online, and is one this hard-to-please beer enthusiast, cook, and critic happily recommends. Even if you get it just to get some information on the culinary style of our country’s breweries and drool over the spectacular food imagery, you won’t be disappointed.

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