If you’ve been following Feelin’ Whisky on Instagram (which you should be) for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me attempt to make beer cheese soup at least once. I got a request from a friend (hi, Rachel!) for a beer cheese soup recipe in… I don’t know, July? Well, uh, it’s February now, and here it finally is. This recipe is my baby. My magnum opus. I’ve worked and re-worked it so many times it’s virtually unrecognizable from my first draft, but that’s how you know it’s a good one.
I don’t take recipe development lightly. I’m a huge perfectionist when it comes to this blog, so I can guarantee that anything I publish here is, in my opinion at least, the pinnacle of deliciousness. With that being said, I’ve also had a lot of luck; many of my recipes turn out just the way I want them on the first try, and I never have to revisit them. Not so with this beer cheese soup. Not so at all.
First I tried making poblano beer cheese soup, which was Rachel’s original request. It tasted fine, but it was grainy and had a weird, super-unappetizing, bodily-function-green color that I could in no way justify photographing and putting on the internet. Back to the drawing board.
I eliminated the poblanos and tried making it again, but still was greeted by a final product with an unpleasant, grainy mouthfeel. Definitely not the thick, creamy, smooth bowl of deliciousness I was after. So I took to the internet. I think I literally typed “why is my beer cheese soup grainy” into the search bar out of desperation. And it worked! What I got was a science lesson that will actually help me monumentally in my future cooking endeavors.
If you’re a seasoned cheese-wielding chef, you may already know this. I, however, do a lot of lightened-up and/or vegan cooking, so I wasn’t familiar with the chemical makeup of cheese, nor with its surprising volatility when heated. As it turns out, cheese is, at its most basic level, a delicious combo of dairy fat, protein, and water. (It’s a lot more complicated than that, but we’re sticking with the pared-down version today.)
If you heat it up too fast, the proteins in it seize up and separate out, leaving you with a product that’s equal parts too watery and too gritty. In other words: if cheese gets too hot too quickly, it’s destined for the trash. That brings me to my first pointer with this recipe: Do not forget to take it off the heat before you add in the cheese. You don’t want to add the cheese to boiling liquid, because then you’ll get a grainy soup. It won’t be good. I promise you.
Second pointer: WHISK, WHISK, WHISK. This recipe really did have me feelin’ whisky (lol sorry), and with good reason. It’s essential that, after you make the roux, you add in the stock and beer sloooooowly and whisk them together between each addition. The goal here is to get a smooth mixture with no clumps!
And finally, my third pointer: Brown ale is the key to a perfectly deep flavor. When I first made this soup, I used a regular lager because I thought a brown ale would be weird. What I failed to recognize, though, is that if you’re making beer cheese soup, then yeah, you want it to taste like beer at least a little bit. Using a lager will work if you’re in a big, big pinch, but brown ale gives a richness and depth to the soup that can’t be replicated. I used Short’s Bellaire Brown because it’s delicious, and Short’s is my favorite brewery of all time. You can use whatever brown ale you like!
Now, with all these words of caution, I’ve probably freaked you out a little. Don’t worry, though. At its core, this recipe really is not difficult to make. Plus, the general process of roux-milk-cheese is the key to a lot of other great recipes, including (but not limited to) this crazy-good mac and cheese. Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can make all sorts of beautiful, cheesy dishes!
I hope you love this Pimiento Beer Cheese Soup as much as I do. Kind of a soup, kind of a dip, and completely acceptable to eat with a spoon in either circumstance, it’s exactly the winter warmer you need. Plus you can enjoy it with an ice-cold bottle of the beer you used to make it. Doesn’t that sound like a match made in heaven? It does to me.
Pimiento Beer Cheese Soup
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2–3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 (12 oz) bottle brown ale
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream or whole milk
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 dashes hot sauce, or more to taste
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 cup shredded smoked gouda*
- 2 (4 oz) jars pimientos, drained and finely diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a big soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until onion is soft, 3–5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook 30 seconds more, or until fragrant.
Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, or until a light golden paste forms. Slowly add the stock and beer, whisking constantly until there are no lumps. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, 5–8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add cream, mustard, and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until creamy.
Remove from heat and add cheeses in handfuls, whisking till smooth. Stir in most of the pimientos, leaving a few set aside for garnish, and season to taste. At this point, you can either serve as-is, or blend it to get a creamier final product. Serve topped with more pimientos and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
*If you can’t find smoked gouda, or if it’s just too expensive where you live, feel free to sub out for more cheddar. Pepper jack or even just regular monterey jack would probably be good here too.