“Food On Tap, Cooking With Craft Beer.” By Lori Rice. The Countryman Press. $24.95.

When you write about beer for a living, you hear about a wide range of gimmicky products. Whether it’s a baseball bat that also works as a beer bong, or a fake stomach that serves as an 80-ounce flask, people are looking to cash in on Americans’ love of beer.

So I was more than a little skeptical when I flipped through the pages of Lori Rice’s “Food on Tap, Cooking With Craft Beer.” Many of the recipes call for a minuscule amount of beer, just enough to say you were cooking with beer, but not so much that it would actually affect the taste.

Cynicism aside, I wanted to make sure the cookbook got a fair evaluation, so I enlisted the help of a professional. Dan Lindberg, the head chef at Foulmouthed Brewing (and my former roommate), flipped through its pages. He stopped on the recipe for Red Ale Roasted Potatoes, which includes a pound of potatoes seasoned with cumin, salt, oregano, paprika, turmeric and cayenne pepper.

“You will never taste the one ounce of red ale in that recipe,” Lindberg said. “And by adding liquid to the roasted potatoes, you are actually doing something counterproductive to what the roasting tries to accomplish.”

The proof, in this case, would lie in the potatoes.

It was an easy recipe – a cookbook reviewer could even enjoy a fine, locally produced beverage while following the instructions. You mix the spices, add some beer and olive oil, cover the potatoes and put them in the oven. I used Foundation’s Ember because it has a loud, hoppy taste. If anybody was going to taste any beer in this recipe, it was going to be because of Ember.

I ended up with the O’Doul’s of beer-roasted potatoes.

The hops stood no chance against all those spices. But it’s worth noting, the combination of spices was very satisfying. The potatoes were crispy and flavorful.

There was more testing to do. Food on Tap’s recipes skew toward the types of food you’d find at Portland restaurant The Great Lost Bear. It’s simple bar fare like nachos, sandwiches and soups, which is exactly the kind of food I want to eat when I’m enjoying a high-quality, locally produced beverage.

The cookbook has beautiful pictures of bar food surrounded by pints of beer. One of those pictures called to me. In the interest of science, I moved on to the Blond Ale Honey Mustard Wings. It’s hard to go wrong with wings.

The start was promising. The wings got a light coating of flour and were baked until crispy. The recipe was simple, and the wings were tasty.

Then we got to the sauce. The recipe calls for a comparatively hefty 8 ounces of blonde ale (I used Firestone Walker’s 805 Blonde Ale because I couldn’t find a local brew in that style). But the addition of Dijon mustard proved too powerful for my palate. Fortunately, a half a bottle of leftover beer helped with the mustard-forward aftertaste.

My enthusiasm for bar food was waning, but I wanted to check out one last recipe. The Roasted Winter Squash Soup recipe includes bacon. It was too tempting to pass up.

The bacon marinates in a dark stout (Foundation’s Forge) and brown sugar. Then you bake it until crispy. The bacon was decadent. Everybody should stop what they’re doing right now and make this bacon.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Stout Brown Sugar Bacon Photos courtesy of the Countryman Press

But the soup itself was unremarkable, including the 6 ounces of Forge that went into it. Forge is roasty, and those coffee notes came through. They gave a strong beer characteristic to the soup that mostly just seemed out of place. But the bacon – like tasty marshmallows in an otherwise ho-hum breakfast cereal – made everything worthwhile.

Recipe testing completed, I went back to Lindberg with my findings. This cookbook had a few home runs, but much of it is gimmicky, as in many of the recipes, the beer either was unnecessary or did little heavy lifting. That became evident when I wrapped up with my friend. I told Lindberg I was ogling a recipe for blondies that includes bourbon barrel-aged beer. He cocked his head sideways and said, “Why don’t you just add bourbon?”

If you insist.

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mesofunblog

Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Stout Brown Sugar Bacon

By far, my favorite part of this recipe was the bacon, which was simple to make and fantastic. A piece of advice: If you really like the taste of a bitter, strong stout, find something bold and use it here. But you’d probably be better off choosing something smooth and subtle, like a Guinness; when I tested the recipe, my soup was overpowered by a burly Foundation Forge.

Serves 6

BACON

10 slices bacon (preferably low sugar and uncured)

6 ounces stout

1 cup packed light brown sugar

SOUP

2 tablespoons extra -virgin olive oil

1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

2 1/2 cups pureed winter squash (about 2 acorn squash)

6 ounces stout

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste

To make the bacon, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet (place parchment paper on the baking sheet for easier cleanup). Line up the bacon in a shallow baking dish and pour in the beer. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Spread the brown sugar on a plate. Working one slice at a time, transfer the bacon to the brown sugar and coat well. Place the slice on the rack over the baking sheet. Repeat for all the slices. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bacon reaches your desired crispness. Remove from the oven. Let cool and then chop very fine.

To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens, about three minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it darkens slightly, about two minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

Sprinkle in the chile powder, pepper and oregano. Stir to coat the onion and garlic. Stir in the squash. Slowly whisk in the beer and then the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Reserve one-quarter of the chopped bacon for garnish. Add the rest of the bacon to the soup. Taste and add the teaspoon of salt, or more or less to taste. Serve.

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