Founding father Ben Franklin may or may not have penned the famous quote, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
But there's no question that the bubbly beverage has been making mankind happy for a long time, going back about 6,000 years to ancient Egypt.
Made from fermented grains, beer rode the wave of the agricultural revolution and eventually migrated to the colder climates of Northern Europe, where Germanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures embraced it as a refreshing accompaniment to cheeses, smoked meats and sausages.
And people have been cooking with it nearly as long as they've been drinking it. Guinness, a dry stout first sold in 1778 by Arthur Guinness of Ireland, became one of the most successful beers worldwide while making its way into some of that country's most beloved dishes.
"I grew up eating Guinness beef stew," said chef Ciara Meaney, a native of Ireland who now lives in Petaluma. "Everything went into the pot, and everything got braised down, with the potatoes and carrots."
Known as a "meal in a glass," Guinness is made from roasted, unmalted barley, which lends it a bitter, burnt flavor. While the nuttiness and earthiness of Guinness translates perfectly into a braising liquid for beef, the brew also has an affinity with sweet substances.
"Guinness and chocolate tend to work beautifully together because of those rich, earthy notes," said Meaney. "It's like adding a teaspoon of espresso to a chocolate cake."
Meaney made Guinness Truffles for a Modern Irish Supper cooking class recently at Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day.
But you won't find corned beef and cabbage on her menu, since that particular dish is more American than Irish. Corned beef was first popularized in New York, where Irish immigrants settled on it as a more affordable substitute for pork.
"People in Ireland could not afford to eat corned beef," Meaney explained. "So I've included Colcannon (potatoes and kale), Brown Bread and Boxty (potato cakes) with Irish Salmon and Leg of Lamb."
In "The Great Meat Cookbook," author Bruce Aidells of Healdsburg includes a recipe for Irish Corned Beef with Vegetables that calls for a malty bottle of Guinness.
"The Guinness is so full flavored," he said. "It has a slight bitterness from the hops, but the corned beef and the root vegetables balance that out."
Aidells makes his own corned beef - "you throw it in a salt brine, and it takes about five days" — but the dish can be made with any good-quality, corned beef.
Aidells' recipe also provides two sauces: a Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream and a Guinness-Mustard Sauce, for the requisite kick of flavor.
When he makes corned beef, Aidells always makes sure there is enough left over for Hash Cakes with Poached Eggs, another recipe from "The Great Meat Cookbook."
In his 1992 book, "Real Beer and Good Eats," Aidells takes readers on a journey through the history of beer and provides 175 recipes that incorporate the sudsy brew, from a Chocolate Porter Cake to Clams and Mussels Steamed in Beer.
Jackson's Bar & Oven in Santa Rosa has had a beer and shellfish dish on its menu since it opened. The Big Bowl of Wood Oven Roasted Mussels is cooked with beer and butter, roasted fennel and garlic, caramelized onions and parsley.