Other Things to do with Beer

eiMpdoninBeer, to many of us it is our drink of choice. We drink it by itself or maybe with a perfectly seared rare grass fed New York strip. There’s a style out there for almost everyone out there ranging from bitter hoppiness to sweat malty goodness. It’s liquid bread and has saved the world on many occasions. But…drinking isn’t the only thing you can use beer for.


This is a no brainer. Of course you can cook with beer. I’ve used it in batters, soups, marinades and even in the occasional Welsh Rarebit. You can use fresh beer or even the stale stuff sitting at the back of the fridge in a forgotten growler. Just because it’s stale, doesn’t mean you have to dump it down the drain.

I’ve written a lot about beer and food pairing, even posted a few recipes, so it’s definitely a versatile ingredient. One of my favorite foods is made with stale beer. This might sound gross to some, but to me its a part of my heritage and makes for a good breakfast in the colder months. I’m talking about is Øllebrød. Though it translates to “Beer Bread,” it is actually more like a gruel. If you saw the 1987 Oscar winning movie “Babbette’s Feast,”  you would see the look of horror on the main character’s face when asked to make Øllebrød and reconstitute dried salted herring (which is another of my favorite yummy treats.) 

Øllebrød has two main ingredients, stale rye bread and stale beer. You can gussy it up a little with the addition of things like cinnamon or lemon juice, but I prefer it plain. I put a little sugar, salt and a little dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream, but that’s all you need. I want to taste the rye and the malt of the beer. So next time you have a brick of Danish rye bread going rock hard stale, just fire up the pot and bring chunks of bread and beer to a boil and simmer till its the desired consistency. Over in Denmark, you can actually buy instant Øllebrød, but it just isn’t the same. I like to use a darker beer like a brown ale, porter or a stout. I don’t recommend using anything hoppy, that can get really bitter and not so tasty real quick. I’ll see if I can find the family recipe.


Bathing? What? Again I will mention Denmark. The first time I saw a person purposely put beer in their hair was over there. I was visiting a friend of mine at his grandmother’s house in Roskilde, a city known for such things as the Viking Ship Museum. This friend of mine actually lived across the street from me at home in DC, so it became customary for us to visit each other’s summer homes.

My friend’s grandmother, or as they say in Denmark, Mormor (mother’s father) was sitting in her garden reading, there were a few bees buzzing near her hair and she smelled of beer. I asked why she had put beer in her hair. She explained what wonders it did for her hair. 

Recently, while on sabbatical from working inside the brewery, I kept busy. I did day to day administrative duties, but occasionally I needed what I call a “Brain Break.” I got into things like making my own lye from ashes and rain water and soap making which is potassium carbonate or also known as “potash.” My homemade lye wasn’t strong enough, so I bit the bullet and went to the hardware store to pick up lye.

If you are going to purchase lye for soap making, make sure it’s 100% lye. This is sodium hydroxide. Keep in mind, this stuff can hurt you, it’s caustic, gives off fumes when mixed with liquid and it can burn you. You’ll want to keep vinegar on hand to pour on your skin if you should get it on yourself.

What is soap? Soap, when you bring it down to the most basic level is a mix of liquid, lye and fat. There are varying fats you can use from animal fat to oils. Each of these oils can effect the  your soap in various ways. Some sud up nicely, others have greater cleaning potential, hardness and more.

There are two methods of making soap, cooked or cold. I chose cold because I didn’t want my wife getting angry at me for messing up the kitchen. I grabbed my soap making tools and went outside onto the porch. I carefully measured out all the ingredients and soon got my first taste of soap making. I recommend getting your hands on an app or soap calculator for recipe formulation. 

I kept mine fairly basic. I had read blog posts and forums galore, boning up on every precaution and recommendations. First, I took a bottle of beer from the brewery that had not carbonated. This is important, you really don’t want to use carbonated beer, it can volcano really quickly. Beer should be flat for this purpose.

After donning goggles and gloves, I mixed the lye in with the liquid, in this case beer, and stirred it carefully until it was dissolved. It heats up really quickly due to the chemical reaction. This will pump out some fumes, do not, under any circumstance, breath it in. Once this is done, you can add the liquid lye to the fat.

I used a mix of canola, olive, coconut and safflower oil. You’ll want to stir this constantly when adding the lye and again, be careful. As you mix it, you’ll start seeing the oil go opaque and you will soon see lines in the oil. These lines are called trace, this basically means its starting to turn into soap. It will get thicker eventually and it will take some time and I do not recommend walking away from it. You can now pour it into a mold. You’ll want to keep it somewhat warm to finish off the Saponification process. Put a towel over it.

It usually takes 24-48 hours to get it to the point where you will unmold it. It will still be soft but firm, this is when you’ll cut it into the desired shapes. Don’t use it right away, it still needs to cure for a few weeks before you can use it, but it is worth the wait. I love this soap, it cleans well and works well as a shampoo and better yet, it doesn’t have all those harsh additives many commercial soaps have.

Well, that’s it for now. Go wash your hands with beer soap and have a beer.