Cooking with alcohol used to mean little beyond a splash of beer in a crock of cheese soup or tub of simmering brats. Now ales, stouts and spirits show up in almost all courses, if you know where to look.
The Brown Bottle, a tasting room and tavern for Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewing Co. since 1938, recently reopened after four years of closure.
Executive chef Ben Hudson produces a mix of pub, comfort and special diet (vegan, gluten-free) dishes that target young professionals. Popular bar food includes beer-infused nuggets, served warm with a trio of house-made dipping sauces. “It’s simple but clean,” Ben says, of the puffed chunks of pizza dough made with beer instead of water.
He sneaks alcohol into desserts: The Brandy Old Fashioned Sundae contains muddled cherries and a brandy-spiked caramel sauce; rum-spiked caramel tops his Pineapple Empanadas. Both use Purple Door Ice Cream, made two miles away (Brandy Old Fashioned is a flavor there).
The chef’s recipes ferment in other ways, too. Reuben sandwiches arrive with a layer of zesty kimchi (pickled cabbage). Meat loaf is served with tomato jam instead of ketchup.
“We want to keep it somewhat old school, but put in a new light,” explains Ben, formerly at the award-winning Bacchus fine dining restaurant in Milwaukee. Gone is “the greasy spoon place of the past.”
Left intact at the Brown Bottle are the vintage antler chandeliers, plaster tile ceiling and fancy ironwork. On walls are framed 1950s photos of celebrity customers: Lucille Ball, Ralph Edwards, Vincent Price and more.
“A lot of people ended up in this tasting room,” says site developer Gary Grunau. Schlitz was the world’s largest brewery in 1902, selling at least 1 million barrels per year, and the Brown Bottle is part of his 46-acre Schlitz Park, a transformation from brewery to office campus.
Tenants gain free access to onsite fitness centers, monthly bicycle tune-ups and other perks. On staff is a wellness consultant. About 1,000 apartments, including Beerline B’s 140 units, are within a three-block walk. Gary envisions the addition of festivals and outdoor movie showings on Brewhouse Square when weather warms.
“We don’t brew the beer here anymore but we serve the original Schlitz,” he notes. It sells for a $2 per tap at the Brown Bottle, where there also are craft beer choices.
The Brown Bottle, 221 W. Galena St., is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner every day except Sunday. brownbottlemke.com, 414-539-6450
At the Appleton Beer Factory, open since late 2013, executive chef Leah Fogle slips inhouse brews and beer ingredients into many menu offerings. For starters, hop-pickled eggs are served in a shot glass with hot sauce. Another appetizing option is grilled mac and cheese bites made with beer and bacon.
For dessert: Beeramisu, an adaptation of tiramisu, or cupcakes made with stout beer and frosted with salted caramel buttercream.
In between: ale-kissed pork shanks to shredded chicken.
“If there is any kind of liquid in a recipe, I play with it,” Leah says. “Beer is a great ingredient for slow-roasting and braising,” but don’t try substituting it for wine in a reduction sauce.
American Pale Ale shows up in the buttermilk ranch that accompanies fried cheese curds. Ale is part of the vinaigrette for salads, mustard for dipping pretzels and “horsey” (horseradish) sauce for calamari.
Part of this beer-centric menu changes with the seasons. The casual brew-pub, a long-ago auto parts store, also is roomy enough to host live music performances.
Appleton Beer Factory, 603 W. College Ave., serves lunch and dinner daily. appletonbeerfactory.com, 920-364-9931
Beer-cheese soup is the subject of a 6:30-8 p.m. March 2 cooking class at the Polish Center of Wisconsin, 6941 S. 68th St., Franklin. The fee is $15 for non-members, registration is limited and the recipe is for soup served at the group’s annual Polish Medieval Feast.
Other class topics are Polish sausage, March 9, and potato-cheese pierogi, March 16. polishcenterofwisconsin.org, 414-529-2140
Upcoming craft beer events include:
Food and Froth Fest, Milwaukee Public Museum, 7-10 p.m. Feb. 21. mpm.edu, 414-278-2728
Manitowoc Jaycees Beer Lover’s Brewfest, Manitowoc County Expo, Feb. 21. manitowocjaycees.org, 920-682-2692
Bockfest 2015, Capital Brewery, Middleton, Feb. 28. capitalbrewery.com, 608-826-1092
New London Chamber Beer Tasting, Feb. 28. newlondonchamber.com, 920-982-5822
Wines and Beers of the World, Milwaukee, March 5. zoosociety.org, 414-258-2333
Hops and Props, EAA AirVenture Museum, Oshkosh, March 7. eaa.org, 920-426-4800
Brews and Chicago Blues Festival, Delavan, March 21. brewsandbluesfestival.com, 262-245-1000
Flanagan’s Beer Fest, Appleton, March 28. flanagansbeerfest.com, 920-968-2621
Heidel House Brew Fest, Green Lake, March 28. heidelhouse.com, 920-294-3344.
Roar on the Shore Brewfest, Luxemburg, March 28. kewauneelionsclub.org
Gitchee Gumee Brew Fest, Wessman Arena, Superior, April 11. ggbrewfest.com, 715-392-2773
Dairy State Cheese and Beer Festival, Brat Stop, Kenosha, April 18. kenoshabeerfest.com, 262-654-6200
Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival, La Crosse, April 25. explorelacrosse.com, 608-782-2220.