If you’ve never come across the term before, you’re probably wondering, what is beer cheese? Is it a beer? Is it a cheese? Is it a mixture of both – or something else entirely?
That’s what we’re going to find out! Come with us to discover the origin of beer cheese, where you can find it, and what you do with it. We’ll even share an easy recipe or two to make it at home.
So step this way to join us on our beer cheese odyssey!
The origin story
Both beer and cheese have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the idea of bringing them together in a single snack was born.
The exact origins are the subject of debate, but the first beer cheese seems to have been made in Clark County, Kentucky. Most people believe it was created by a chef called Joe Allman.
Joe worked at a restaurant called the Driftwood Inn, which was owned by his cousin, Johnnie. He rustled up the snack free of charge to patrons. It was a savvy business move. The hefty salt content encouraged them to drink more beer!
In the 1940s, the inn moved to a new location further along the Kentucky river, in Winchester. But a couple of decades later, legend has it that Johnnie lost the inn in a card game.
The new owner was called Carl Johnson, but it wasn’t to be his for long. In 1965 he died, and the inn, and its recipes, changed hands again.
This time, the beer cheese legacy passed into the hands of a couple, George and Gertrude Hall. Later that year, they launched their own take on the recipe, Hall’s Snappy Beer Cheese.
The business has since expanded dramatically, introducing beer cheese to people across the US and the world. There’s even an apocryphal tale that Her Majesty the Queen was seen boarding an aeroplane with a tub of Hall’s!
But what is it?
Beer cheese is a spreadable cheese, flavored with beer and spices, that can go on top of all manner of things. Favorites include saltines, crackers, kettle chips, pretzels and raw vegetables. It’s also sometimes served with burgers, and even as a soup.
The base is a sharp cheddar – or in the case of commercially produced versions, processed cheese with a cheddar flavoring. Enough beer is then added to give the beer cheese its distinctive texture, as well as a tasty tang.
But once you get past these basics, there’s huge variety out there. Beer cheese recipes variously include cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, horseradish and even bacon.
And plenty of other cheeses find their way into the mix with the cheddar too. Gouda, mozzarella, gruyere and cream cheese all pop up different recipes.
Where can you buy it?
Although Hall’s does export its product, beer cheese is still relatively hard to find outside Kentucky. But if you find yourself in the home state of beer cheese, check out the annual beer cheese festival!
Instituted in 2009, the festival offers the opportunity to try samples of beer cheese from a range of manufacturers. There are also competitions for both amateurs and professionals to show off their wares.
It attracts an audience of thousands each year to the location on Beer Cheese Boulevard. There’s live music too, making it a fun day out for all beer cheese enthusiasts!
But if Kentucky is too far to go, and you’re finding difficulty getting your hands on beer cheese, why not make your own? It’s pretty simple to do, and you can even adapt a recipe to suit your own preferences.
Choosing the right beer for home-made beer cheese
If you’re taking the home-made route, the first step is to choose the right beer. There are no rules when it comes to beer cheese, so you can be guided by your own tastes. But different kinds of beers will give different results.
Although you can vary the quantities you use to give a stronger or weaker flavor, there are limits to this. That’s because the amount of beer will affect the texture of your beer cheese. Avoid adding more alcohol to create a stronger flavor. You’re likely to end up with a beer cheese that’s just too runny.
It’s better by far to choose a beverage with the right profile for your palate. Light beers, like IPAs and lagers, will give your beer cheese a more subtle flavor. If you prefer something punchier, choose stout or porter.
Choosing the right cheese
It is possible to make beer cheese with processed cheese and cheddar flavoring. After all, that’s what the commercial outfits do. But you will get a much better flavor if you use proper, tangy cheddar as your base.
Don’t buy the stuff that comes ready-grated. This has preservatives added to stop the cheese from drying up. As a result, it won’t melt as readily or as smoothly as cheddar from a block.
Personally, we think everything tastes better with a good, strong cheese. Go for extra mature cheddar for a deliciously deep flavor.
A simple recipe
For a simple beer cheese, get some shallots, garlic, whole milk, cream cheese, vegetable oil and freshly ground black pepper. You’ll want three bottles of your preferred beer, and 10 ounces of freshly grated cheddar. (That’s the same as two heaping cups.)
- Warm a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan on a medium heat. Then add two thinly sliced shallots and two crushed garlic cloves, frying gently to help release their flavors.
- When they’re just beginning to turn golden, pour in the beer. Now add a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Let it all come to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until you have about a third of a cup of liquid remaining. That will take about an hour.
- When your liquid has reduced, strain it into a heat-proof container and leave it to one side to cool.
- When the liquid has cooled, you’re going to add it to the rest of your ingredients. Add six ounces of softened cream cheese, two thirds of a cup of whole milk and your cheese to a food processor. Then pour in the cooled beer reduction.
- Use the pulse setting to mix them together, checking the texture regularly as you go. You want the contents of the food processor to be properly combined, but not a completely smooth paste.
- Now transfer the mixture from the food processor to a large pan. Heat it gently on your stove top until the cheese has completely melted. This will take about ten minutes.
When it’s ready, whisk it until it’s smooth. Remember, if you’re using a non-stick pan, transfer the beer cheese to a bowl before whisking! Even non-stick surfaces that claim to cope with metal utensils will last longer without that kind of punishment.
Your beer cheese is now ready! Leave it to cool, then cover it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. If you can leave it for at least four hours before using it, you’ll give the flavors time to develop.
And a spicier version
If you like your beer cheese with a bit more kick, this alternative recipe may be just what you need. It uses mustard, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce to add extra oomph.
This recipe uses one bottle of beer rather than three, and there’s no need to reduce the beer. That also means this version is a lot quicker to prepare.
Start by mixing together 12 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese with 1.5 tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl. Set it to one side.
Now add the beer and a teaspoon or two of Worcestershire sauce. To this mixture, add 5 ounces of evaporated milk and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
Whisk everything together. (If you’re using a non-stick pan, it’s best to do this in a bowl and then add it to the pan.) Heat it gently until it steams. Give it a stir every so often to prevent it sticking and burning.
It’s now time to add the cheddar. Tip it into the pan, then keep stirring until the cheese has melted. Keep the pan on the heat, stirring all the time, until the beer cheese has thickened and is bubbling hot.
Now add in your hot sauce. Add at least a teaspoon, and more if you want more heat. Finally, add a pinch of salt to taste, and serve immediately.
You’re now a beer cheese expert!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to everything there is to know about beer cheese! This simple yet tasty snack has a ton of variations, and it’s very easy to make.
Try one of our recipes, or why not experiment with your own twist on the idea? Use different beers, extra cheeses alongside the cheddar, and a dash of spice to really mix things up.
There are plenty of different options for serving your beer cheese too. Spread some on saltines the traditional Kentucky way, or add some cheesy goodness to a burger. However you do it, it’s sure to be delicious.