Better with beer

  • Big Bowl of Roasted Wood Oven Mussels, cooked with fennel, garlic, onion and beer, at Jackson's Bar and Grill, in Santa Rosa.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

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."

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