Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Dinner In the Beer Garden": Lucy Saunders cooks veggies; serves beers.

Beer is food: "in cooking, at the table, and by the glass."

Beer cookbooks usually come in one of two flavors: a collection of recipes of dishes that should be served with beer (but don't have to be) and a compendium of recipes using beer as an integral ingredient. Combining both approaches, four of the better beer cookbooks, currently in-print, have been written by one person, Lucy Saunders.

Now, Saunders —who hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin— has written her fifth cookbook, self-publishing it with the assistance of a successful Kickstarter campaign. And, it's a cookbook for vegetarians. That's something long anticipated, because beer is, after all, a fine vegetarian foodstuff itself.

"Dinner in the Beer Garden" title=

Dinner in the Beer Garden is my new cookbook about pairing craft beer with plant-based recipes, enjoyed outdoors in gardens and other social spaces. This isn't about traditional biergarten food like ham hocks and bratwurst. It's a cookbook for people who like carrots and kale - as well as butter, fish, cheese and chocolate! Profiles of gorgeous brewery gardens, a chapter on the history and design of beer gardens, and juicy color photographs of recipes turn the book into a tasty read. Recipes are both original and contributed by home cooks and chefs in the craft brewing community.

Saunders likes her grilled meats and her barbeque (and has written about those in prior books) but it's fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, herbs, and grains that are the stars of Dinner in the Beer Garden. She may include a few recipes for fish, eggs, and cheese (Saunders is from Wisconsin), but, as Saunders writes, her new cookbook is for people who "love craft beer, who love cooking with fresh produce, and who love sharing meals in sociable garden spaces."

Saunders divides the book into eleven chapters of recipes, each centered about a family of ingredients:
  • Appetizers
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Greens
  • Noodles & Pasta
  • Roots
  • Squash & Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Sauces & Soups
  • Fruits & Desserts
Saunders depicts each recipe with a photograph of the finished plate. She suggests a beer for each —with a reason why— such as, with Cauliflower-Chickpea Cakes and Cucumber-Onion Relish, a recommendation for Debutante, a farmhouse ale brewed as a collaboration between Baltimore, Maryland's The Brewer's Art and Stillwater Artisinal Ales.
I love falafel, one of the easiest and fastest vegan bar snacks around. Here's a tasty riff on a baked version, adapted from Lauren Downey, author of the blog Veg-ology. It's a blend of cauliflower and spices folded into a red lentil and chickpea cake. <...> Downey likes a farmhouse ale for its refreshing, yeasty character to balance the seasonings and earthy lentils. I also like an English bitter, which is malty and bracing for a refreshing finish.

Often, what are the only 'vegan' snacks that brewpubs and beer bars offer on their menus? Baked pretzels and French fries (or variants thereof). No more excuses, guys! Why not falafel (or chickpea cakes)? But, then again, Saunders does include a recipe for pretzels: Bock Beer Pretzels, with the strong lager contributing caramel color, aroma, and flavor. It's one of the over 100 recipes in her book, for such things such as:
  • Butternut Squash and Beet Salad
  • Roasted Corn with Chile and Cotija Sauce
  • Fresh Beet Gnocchi
  • Hop-Infused Grilled Cheese with Heirloom Tomatoes
  • IPA-brined Potato Salad
  • Millet Flatbread with Manchego Cheese and Rosemary
  • Summer Rolls with Coconut-Sriracha Dipping Sauce.
  • Thai Carrot Burgers with Cucumber Relish
... to name but a few. The recipes are approachable for a home-cook —never too complicated, or too multi-stepped, or too ingredient-unusual— but they are not simple-tasting. You really do need to try Brown Ale Bananas, grilled, and served over rice or as dessert.

Beer Gardens

So, what is a beer garden? Saunders writes this:
A welcoming social space outdoors, designed with seating where you can relax in the shade, chat and sip beverages in the company of friends and family. <..> Plantings for a beer garden provide shade, enclosure, color, texture, foliage, and flowers. <...> And training bines on a trellis above an entry gate always makes a welcome symbol for the beer garden.

A guest essay describes the beer gardens ubiquitous in Bavaria, Germany.
To the Germans, beer gardens seem to be a way of life —a part of the community where everyone gathers to discuss politics and the weather over liters of dunkel and some crispy fried potatoes. <...> For the most part, everyone [is] content to relax and enjoy the food, beer, conversation, and setting. There is a respect for the shared space and all who are experiencing it, be they tourists or locals. <...>If you go to a beer garden, don't just go thirsty. They offer so much more than giant pretzels and beer —even for the vegetarians among us.

Unfortunately, it's much rarer to find the same here in the U.S. "Washington, D.C. doesn't have beer gardens," Greg Kitsock, editor of the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, once said to Washington D.C. historian Garrett Peck. "It has beer patios."

Things may be changing, and Saunders writes on that. Interspersed among her recipes, Saunders identifies and describes beer gardens in the U.S., including one at the Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro. The National Wildlife Federation has designated this Bellingham, Washington, brewpub's beer garden as an official Wildlife Habitat, the only brewpub so honored. Saunders gives a shout out to Virginia's own Brew Ridge Trail, closer to YFGF's home territory.

Blue Mt. Sunset (03)

In a short essay "About Tasting and Pairing Beer with Vegetables", Saunders muses:
On a warm summer evening, I love to watch light filter through the leaves of the dogwood and viburnum with a beer in hand, salad on table, listening to the conversation of friends as I refill their glasses. "Why is it," I wonder, "that food and beer taste so much better together when we're in the beer garden?"

Camaraderie and environment are essential ingredients of good beer flavor, and good food. This is something that 'craft' beer folk —not Ms. Saunders— can on occasion neglect when trumpeting the newest, 'special-est' beer. A beer garden could be anodyne: a calm third-place for slow-beer. And, maybe more. During the spring through early autumn seasons, as fresh vegetables march in their annual parade, a beer garden could not only be an ornamental place in which to enjoy a beer, but home-ground to many of the very ingredients featured in Dinner in the Beer Garden. Grow 'em; cook 'em; enjoy 'em. With beer. With friends, outdoors.


About Lucy Saunders

Lucy Saunders on TV

At, Lucy Saunders has chronicled American brewing since 1987. Her work has been featured in publications such as Saveur, USA Today, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and elsewhere (such as here at YFGF!). She teaches cooking-with-beer-classes and tastings at the Siebel Institute and throughout the U.S. Saunders is a co-founder of the newly-resuscitated North American Guild of Beer Writers, on whose board she serves as Director.

  • Dinner in The Beer Garden is currently available for purchase at select brewery gift shops, independent retailers, and via direct purchase. If the book is not available at your local brewpub, ask, "Why not?" Here's how to purchase it:
  • Lucy Saunders is also active in water conservation issues, recognizing that that ingredient is, after all, 95% of beer. She organizes water conservation events at
  • Follow Saunders on Twitter at @LucyBeerCook, on Facebook at Dinner in the Beer Garden, and at her home website
  • My YFGF review of Lucy Saunders' previous cookbook, The Best of American Beer & Food.

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