Beer has always been seen as a man’s drink. It’s what the blokes drink around the barbecue as they overcook the steaks while the women are inside sipping Chardonnay and making the salads. It’s what blokes chug back after mowing the lawn, or use to wash down a pie and sauce at the footy. These great cultural pleasures have been enjoyed for many a year, and long may they live – however times are changing and it is my hope that this book will help to drive the changes even faster.
Thankfully it is no longer unusual to go to a bar, a pub or a backyard barbecue and see a group of people– men and women – all drinking beer. What is unusual is the range of beers they may be drinking; the guys might be drinking amber ale, English bitter, a double IPA or a Belgian wit and the women might be enjoying a Kolsch, a sparkling ale or an Austrian pilsner.
On the menu will be anything gourmet – from sausages, pizza, terrines or paella to weird and wonderful dips and cheeses. We now have a wide variety of great produce available to us and that means people are now looking for, asking for and wanting flavour.
In Australia, we now have over 650 breweries dotted around the country, all making great beers with their own unique flavours. Beer has changed and so has the way people look at beer. It is no longer the cheap and relatively tasteless mega-swill that you drink just because your dad did and his dad before him. It is now a considered part of a dinner party, a family function or a good night out. Pubs and restaurant are now matching beers to the dishes on their menus – something the micro-breweries have been doing for years. Boutique bars serving only micro-brewed and specialty beers are springing up all over the country and beer dinners are starting to become commonplace.
Better still, the use of beer as an ingredient has finally moved beyond the ubiquitous beer-battered fish and chips. Don’t get me wrong, I love beer-battered fish and chips and have it often, but nowadays I match the beer in the batter to the fish or seafood I am cooking – a pilsner for prawns, sparkling ale for flake, and stout for mussels or oysters. The combinations and possibilities are endless and the world of beer and food is… well, it’s your oyster (Oyster Stout of course!) Beer has finally come of age as a sophisticated beverage that both men and women are consuming and enjoying in greater numbers than ever before. It has a deserved and unique place on the table at home, in the restaurant, by the barbecue and in the dish being served.
When I told people I was writing a beer cookbook their general reaction was to say how much their husband, boyfriend or son would love it, and I hope they do – I hope wives, girlfriends and sisters buy it in the thousands for their loved ones. However my aim in writing this book was to write it for men and women alike who share my love for a fine lager or ale and, importantly, for people who like good food. I have cooked all the dishes in this book and I have fed them to my wife, my daughters, my mum, my in-laws, my friends, my children’s friends, my butcher, my bank manager, my bottle shop attendant and many others. I am glad to say they all loved the dishes!
The key to cooking with beer is to create really good dishes that stand on their own, are well balanced, well flavoured and don’t taste like beer. If every dish in this book tasted like beer there would be no point in writing more than one recipe. Beer is but one ingredient and it must work in a harmonious and complementary way with all of the other ingredients. Beer in itself is a unique drink, but used as an ingredient in a recipe it will add all sorts of wonderful complexity to a dish. There are well over 100 recognised beer styles in the world, each with its own flavour profiles and nuances. There are thousands of breweries around the world making these styles and each brewery has its own unique character that they impart into their beers. For instance Pilsner is the most prolific beer style and is made by almost every country in the world. If you did a side-by-side tasting of Pilsners from China, Japan, Austria, Australia, America, Malaysia and the Philippines, you would be amazed by the differences between them. Try a side-by-side tasting of Australian-made Pilsners only and again you would be amazed at the differences. See what I mean about complexity? So when you use beer in your cooking you have an incredible amount of choice, subtlety and flavour profiles to experiment with. Therefore the key to making a really good dish is to choose an appropriate beer with the nuances and flavour profiles that will best suit the dish.
How best do you do this? Taste lots of beers! One size does not fit all so there is no point in using your favourite beer in all of the recipes in this book. You can if you want to – the recipes will work – but you will be missing out on some wonderful and unique characteristics bought to these recipes by the specific styles of beer I have used. Experiment and have fun – cooking with beer is an adventure and one I know you will enjoy! I certainly do!
‘Cooking with Beer’ was among the top cookbooks in the Gourmand Cook Book Awards in 2011. It has since become a bestseller, selling over close to 150,000 copies in 5 languages and eight countries around the world.
There is much more that can be said about my beer journey but for now the timeline below will give you a good idea of how that journey has weaved its way across the years.
1975 – First taste of a beer – Emu Bitter
1982 – Discovery of Coopers Sparkling Red
1982 – Commencement of beer education. Whilst travelling the world tasting making notes and generally enjoying the beers of the world.
1988 – Acquired first home brew kit
1989 – Joined ESB (Eastern Suburbs Brew maker) This was a fairly famous home brew shop in Sydney that a number of its members went on to become well known professional brewers such as Doug and Matt Donelan, Dave Edney, Rob Freshwater, etc.
1994 – 2005 Coopers Brewery Ambassador
1998 – Pitched his own Beer TV series show to the three major networks “Beer Lovers Guide to Australia”
2005 – Launched own beer, Merc’s Own Peach Ale, in Victoria. Sold in 23 bottle shops
2005 – Bought his 50 litre three tier full mash brewing system
2006 – MC for Australian National Home Brewers Conference Awards night
2006-2012 – Hosted the Australian International Beer Awards 3 times
Hosted the New Zealand International Beer Awards four times
Was a Judge for the International New Zealand awards Two years running.
2007 – Cooking with Beer presentation, Australian National Homebrewers Conference
2005-2012 – Hosted his own cooking TV programmes – 72 episodes quite often featuring breweries and cooking with beer segments. (Mercurio’s Menu, Channel 7.)
2005 – Began a series of monthly beer dinners at the Half Moon Hotel in Brighton
2011 – Launched bestselling cook book “Cooking with Beer”
2013 – Held Beer for Breakfast event at Young and Jacksons for Good Beer Week
2014 – Opened his own Beer café called Merc’s Bier Cafe
2015 – Keynote speaker for Lion Nathen Brisbane Conference
2016 – Brewed in collaboration with BentSpoke Brewery Australia’s first Aphrodisiac beer “Ye Ole Horny Ale”
2017 – MC Australian National Home Brewers Conference Awards Dinner
2018 – Cooking with Beer presentation, Australian National Homebrewers Conference
Over the last 18 years Mercurio has travelled around Australia conducting cooking with beer demonstrations and has been recently booked to go on two cruises to do cooking with beer demonstrations early 2019.