(Note: This post contains affiliate links. The product reviewed was provided by a local company.)
I want to preface this post by pointing out that I don’t drink. The most alcohol I take in at any one time is about half of the tiny sample cups that vendors give out at farmers markets and festivals or a sip to taste something that someone else is drinking. I am, however, not adverse to using alcohol in cooking. In fact, some recipes I’ve seen (like the apple sauerkraut rolls in Whole Grain Vegan Baking) make me downright fascinated.
That’s why I couldn’t say no when Smart Beer, a brand-new organic beer producer in Saratoga Springs, NY, approached me asking if I would review their vegan-friendly brew.
Smart Beer launched in October of this year and was created with the premise of balancing “celebrating and living well.” It’s made using certified organic ingredients including barley, wheat, hops, orange peel and licorice root. The company prides itself on being “New York’s first organic beer company” and is dedicated to “brewing the purest organic beers on the market.” They believe that people deserve a beer that can be enjoyed without compromising a healthy diet and lifestyle.
When three bottles of Smart Beer arrived on my doorstep, the hardest part was deciding what to make with them. Welsh Rarebit? Irish Stew? Some kind of baked good?
In the end, I settled on Lentil Chili. With beer.
Oddly enough, the recipe was inspired by a decidedly not vegan chili posted on a blog called A Spicy Perspective. Out of all the beer-based chili recipes I perused, this one seemed to hold the most promise for Smart Beer. To give the dish a vegan makeover, I replaced the meat with lentils while keeping the overall flavor profile the same.
Of course, before I cooked with Smart Beer, I had to take a sip to find out what it tasted like on its own. Popping the top–which requires a bottle opener–released a deep, yeasty smell similar to other craft beers I’ve tasted, but the flavor was unique. Like the smell, it was deep and thick, but the orange peel and licorice give it bright overtones that were pleasant enough that I took another sip.
I should probably also note that I hate beer. Out of the small spectrum of alcoholic beverages I’ve tasted, beer has been the hardest to warm up to. So for me, two sips is like two thumbs up–a complete rarity that gives a beer the QV seal of approval. In fact, given the appropriate circumstances, I might even go for a whole bottle. (How many thumbs up is that?)
Preparation here is fairly standard as far as chili recipes go. The only unusual step is to cook the lentils in Smart Beer instead of in a base of water, vegetable broth or tomatoes. Of course, tomatoes do make an appearance, along with onions, peppers, carrots and a hearty dose of beans. Everything gets seasoned with a traditional blend of chili spices and just a bit of Sucanat (or maple syrup, if that’s your thing) for sweetness. There’s even a little cornmeal thrown in, a touch from the original recipe that I decided to keep because it struck me as rather unique. The earthy flavor of the beer adds depth to the taste of the chili powder, and the overall combination creates a nicely spicy finish. Top it with salsa and vegan sour cream, slices of avocado or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
If you do decide to try Smart Beer, please remember to enjoy it responsibly! Craft beer does have some associated health benefits, but it is still an alcoholic beverage and is by no means a health food. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your beer chili (or a beer with your chili), of course! Make it an occasional treat, and you’ll relish it all the more, especially if it’s organic and brewed with quality in mind.
- 1½ cups onion, chopped
- 1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
- ¾ cup carrots, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- ¾ cup dry brown lentils
- 1 12oz bottle of Smart Beer
- water as needed
- 1 28oz can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes (about 3 cups)
- 1½ cups cooked or 1 15.5oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed if canned
- 1½ cups cooked or 1 15.5oz can black beans, drained and rinsed if canned
- 3 Tbsp cornmeal
- 2 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- ½ Tbsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup or Sucanat
- Place the onions, peppers and carrots in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Pour in the beer and add the lentils. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water if the lentils seem dry.
- Stir in the tomatoes, beans, cornmeal, spices and sweetener. Return the mixture to a simmer and simmer, covered, until the lentils are completely tender, 10-20 minutes. Serve hot with your choice of garnishes.
What’s your favorite dish to make with beer?