Like many of you, I’m sure, I just love slow-cooked corned beef. That delicious, tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef is traditionally served with cabbage, potatoes, and other vegetables, making it a hearty and flavorful dish that is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day or any other time of the year.
When it comes to cooking corned beef, many people turn to beer as an ingredient in the cooking process, and why not, we all love beer too. The beer not only adds flavor to the meat but also helps to tenderize it.
But with so many types of beer available, which one is the best for beer corned beef? In this post, we’ll explore some of the best beers to use when cooking this delicious dish.
What Is Corned Beef?
Corned beef is a classic Irish dish that has become popular around the world. It is a beef brisket that has been salt-cured or “corned,” which means that it has been preserved in salt, spices, and other seasonings.
Although Ireland is well known for its corned beef, to be honest, you are very unlikely to find it on a pub menu in Ireland. The Irish in Dublin much prefer their pork, bacon, or lamb – think Irish stew or Gammon with cabbage. In this case, why do we think of it as being so Irish?
It was actually the British who invented the term “corned beef” in the late 17th century to refer to the size of the large salt crystals which were used to cure the beef, almost the size of corn kernels.
The Irish became known for the quality of their corned beef due to several political and economic factors – their meat of choice had always been pigs or lamb with beef considered as being too wealthy for them.
However, the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667 prohibited the export of live cattle to England and hence the Irish market was flooded with cattle, which lowered the cost of meat available for salting.
Additionally, the Salt tax of Ireland was about 1/10th of England so the Irish could import higher quality salts at lower prices. The wider availability of less expensive meats and those quality salts meant Ireland became a hub for corned beef.
Irish immigrants to America soon started to “corn” their own beef using kosher cuts of briskets from Jewish butchers. Since brisket is a tougher cut of beef, the salting and cooking processes would transform the meat into the extremely tender and flavorsome corned beef we all know and love today.
Any Irish bar in America worth its salt (excuse the pun!) now makes a Corn Beef Reuben Sandwich (another American innovation!)
Nitrates found in the curing spices convert the natural myoglobin of the beef into nitroso myoglobin, giving the beef that pink color. The nitrates and nitrites also reduce the chance of deadly botulism occurring during the curing process by preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria spores.
However, nitrates have also been recently linked to cancer in mice, and it is recommended that if your corned beef should have used nitrates in the curing process it is well rinsed before cooking and then patted dry with some kitchen towel.
Corned beef is available which has used nitrate-free pickling salts and spices. This has more of a grey hue and is commonly referred to as New England corned beef.
What Is the Best Beer for Corned Beef?
When it comes to cooking corned beef, dark beers tend to work better. It’s like the old rule – white wine for chicken and fish, red wine for beef or other dark meats.
You are going to need a beer that can stand up to the strong flavors of a brined or pickled brisket of beef. That strong salty flavor of cured meat needs something which will help balance the saltiness and bring out the sweet flavor of the meat.
One of the keys to a delicious corned beef is the cooking liquid. While many people use water or beef broth as the cooking liquid, adding beer to the mix can take the dish to the next level.
Beer not only adds flavor to the meat, but it also helps to tenderize it. When cooking corned beef, the beer should be added to the pot along with the other ingredients and cooked for several hours until the meat is tender and fully cooked.
When cooking corned beef with beer, it’s important to choose a beer that you enjoy drinking. The flavor of the beer will infuse the meat and vegetables, so you want to choose a beer that you like the taste of.
Additionally, it’s important to use a beer that complements the flavors of the other ingredients in the dish. While any of the beers mentioned below can be used to cook corned beef, it’s always a good idea to experiment with different types of beer to find your perfect flavor profile.
The Top 6 Beer Styles for Corned Beef
Irish stout is a natural choice for cooking corned beef, given its origins in Ireland. The dark, rich flavor of an Irish stout pair well with the saltiness of the corned beef.
The bitterness of the stout also helps to balance out the sweetness of some of the vegetables that are often cooked with corned beef.
Brown ale is another great choice for cooking corned beef. The nutty, caramel flavor of a brown ale helps take away from the salty flavors of the corned beef.
The sweetness of the beer also helps to balance any bitterness sometimes found in root vegetables.
Amber ale is a versatile beer that can be used in many different recipes, including cooking corned beef.
The sweetness of an amber ale again helps to balance out the saltiness of the corned beef, while the hoppy bitterness adds depth of flavor.
Belgian ales are known for their complex flavor profiles, which make them an excellent choice for cooking corned beef.
The fruity and spicy notes in a Belgian ale can add contrasting flavors to the saltiness of the corned beef, while the carbonation helps to tenderize the meat.
Wheat beer is a light and refreshing beer that can be used to cook corned beef.
The citrusy notes in a wheat beer complement the salty and pickled flavors of the corned beef, while the effervescence of the beer helps to tenderize the meat.
It may seem like the odd one out but a crisp dry cider like Strongbow or Magners is a good alternative for those who don’t like (God forbid!) beer.
The slightly sweeter or fruitier taste of the cider will pair well with that salty taste of the beef while making it a much lighter dish than some of the hearty darker beers.
Our 10 Favorite Beers for Cooking Corned Beef
Guinness Draught – Ireland
- 4.2% ABV
If you want to keep things traditional, stick with Guinness with its rich roasted flavors pairing perfectly with the more savory flavors of the corned beef.
The resulting sauce is dark, rich, and has a complex flavor.
Harp Lager – Ireland
- 5.0% ABV
A European pale lager can give a completely different lighter taste to your corned beef rather than a darker beer like a stout.
A crisp beer like Harp lager can help to cut through the richness of the corned beef and allow the natural flavors of beef to shine.
Belhaven Scottish Ale – Scotland
- 5.2% ABV
An amber ale like Belhaven has a nutty, biscuity flavor that goes well with corned beef.
In addition, the moderate levels of carbonation of a Scotch ale-style beer can help to cleanse your palate in between bites of the corned beef.
Smithwick’s Red Ale – Ireland
- 3.8% ABV
With a distinctive Ruby red color, this traditional Irish Red Ale has a refreshingly balanced taste with a blend of mild hops, sweet malt, and roasted barley.
The slightly sweet flavor goes well with the saltiness of the beef while the caramel notes in the beer will also complement the carrots and any other root vegetables you may be using.
Magners Cider – Ireland
- 4.5% ABV
For those people who don’t like beer, cider pairs well with corned beef. If you think corned beef is only for St Patrick’s Day, think again and try a delicious apple-braised corned beef with apple and fennel instead of cabbage and potato this fall.
The fruity flavors of a cider like Magners and the slight sweetness it brings will contrast nicely with the sharp salty and pickled flavor of the beef.
Deschutes Obsidian Stout – USA
- 6.4% ABV
Just because we think corned beef is an Irish dish doesn’t mean we have to stick to Irish beers.
Obsidian Stout has a richer flavor than your traditional Guinness, with rich chocolate and distinct notes of espresso adding to the complexity of the flavors of corned beef and the resulting sweet sauce.
Caffery’s Irish Cream Ale – Ireland
- 5.2% ABV
A simple, light-colored beer like Caffrey’s creamy ale can add a sweetness to the sauce that pairs well with the carrots and other vegetables served without causing the sauce to look too dark.
The low carbonation of creamy ales like Caffrey’s also makes it a good choice for those who don’t like high-carbonation beers, which can often make the cabbage taste fizzy.
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout – USA
- 9% ABV
If you’re feeling extravagant, why not use what many would call the finest stout on the planet?
A rich and intense brew with big complex flavors, you only need one bottle for most corned beef and should use a mixture of beer and water to prevent overpowering the flavors of the corned beef too much.
Although the intense bitterness can add to the depth of the cooking sauce, try to cook your cabbage separately as the 5 IBUs of bitterness can often make the cabbage taste bitter.
Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger Black Lager – USA
- 5% ABV
If you like a bit of smokiness to your corned beef, a smoked Schwarzbier like this fine example from Jack’s Abby can add the sweetness you need to combat that salty flavor with just a hint of smoke.
Semi-sweet chocolate and coffee add complexity to the flavors.
Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale – Ireland
- 4.3% ABV
This is a nitrogenated ale from the makers of Guinness, and the nitrogen has a very fine bead which has a smooth effect on the beer.
The sweetness goes well with the root vegetables cooked alongside the corned beef, while the low bitterness of this creamy ale won’t overwhelm the more delicate flavors of the meat.
What Beer Is Best for Cooking Brisket?
Pretty much like cooking corned beef, cooking brisket with craft beer is all about using the flavors of a brew to braise the brisket and infuse the meat with pleasant roasty flavors.
As the moist heat of the braising liquid begins to gently break down the connective tissues in the beef and the collagen responsible for the toughness, the roasty maltiness of a beer can help give better a flavor.
You don’t need sweet beers for a brisket as it won’t be as salty as corned beef. But be wary of low-alcohol beers as they may not impart too much flavor.
The top choices for cooking brisket with beer would be:
- A porter – typically brewed with roasted malt and my top choice.
- A stout – normally brewed with some roasted barley but not malted
- A brown ale – also uses roasted malt in the grain bill but can be slightly sweeter
- A German dark lager such as Schwarzbier, a Dunkel, or a Bock for a crisp light flavor to the brisket.
Does Beer Tenderize Beef?
The best part of cooking with beer is that beer has tannins and acids which tenderize and disintegrate meat while adding plenty of flavors.
The acids break down the connective tissues of less expensive cuts of meat while the tannins convert the collagen into softer gelatin. It’s similar to using citrus, wine, or vinegar in a marinade.
Fork-tender corned beef normally requires a cooking time of over 1 hour per pound but using a braising mixture that contains beer can often cut this down to just 45 minutes a pound. Plus you get all that beery goodness in the braising space and the beef itself.
What Is the Best Beer for Beef and Cabbage?
If you are cooking a one-pot meal of beef and cabbage or other root vegetables, try to avoid beers that are too hoppy or bitter, or too sweet.
The vegetables can often become too sweet or too bitter if you choose an ale that is too strong in bitterness or sweetness. Hops can also add an unpleasant earthy, almost floral taste to the beef if you choose an ale that has too many bold hops.
If in doubt, stick with a simple draught stout or a light-colored beer like a pilsner or a lager. I’ve even been known to use a Coors Light on odd occasions, which, while great for tenderizing the meat, won’t have such strong flavors that it overwhelms the flavors of the corned beef.
Be careful not to add the vegetables too early in the cooking of the corned beef as overcooking will result in mushy veg.
The Best Beer to Cook Corned Beef – Final thoughts
In conclusion, adding beer to the cooking liquid when making corned beef is a great way to take this classic dish to the next level.
Irish stout, brown ale, amber ale, Belgian ale, and wheat beer are all great choices that can add depth of flavor and complexity to the dish.
Whether you’re cooking corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day or any other occasion, using beer as an ingredient can help you create a delicious and memorable meal. Try experimenting and see which you prefer!