Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well, Wisconsin), there lived a magical bowl filled with beer and cheese.
Seriously, though. Would any story that starts like that end badly? I don’t think so. Trust me on this one. I’m an expert.
As far as pairings go, beer brings out the best in cheese and vice versa. Beer is the Yin to cheese’s Yang. I’m equally as emphatic about wine and cheese—but we’ll save that grape gab for another day.
Certain foods and beverages enhance each other, and I find immense happiness in the fact that two of my very favorite things in the whole world complement each other so well.
Oh, beer and cheese, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
When the acidity of the tomato sauce and the fattiness of the stretchy, salty mozzarella hit their peak on your taste buds, nothing cuts through and calms everyone down like a crisp, bright lager.
Just as the fiery, tingly zip of the jalapenos meets the gooey, nutty cheddar-jack and earthy tortilla chips on your tongue—an icy, lime-tinted cerveza swoops in and saves the day.
I could go on and on, but I’m trying to stick to a word count here. There’s simply no denying the fact that beer and cheese are two long lost souls who are meant to be enjoyed together.
So how did the two end up in one dish?
Well, it was only a matter of time before someone came along, flipped the cap off their Coors, and poured it all over their dinner.
That’s probably not exactly how beer cheese soup was invented, but it’s how I like to picture it in my head. In actuality—and to absolutely no one’s surprise—the origin of this creamy concoction is Wisconsin.
The cheese-centric state was settled by mainly Germans, and those immigrants brought the tradition of this soup along with them. Today, you can’t hit a pub, restaurant, or dive bar in that area of the Midwest without running into a bowl of beer cheese soup.
And since I live in Illinois—for that, I say, “danke schön!”
If you’re wondering why the combination of an alcoholic beverage and a brothy soup even makes sense—let me lay it down for you.
Beer is comprised of four basic ingredients: barley, water, hops, and yeast. The barley brings a nutty flavor, while the yeast’s bready notes help develop a deep earthiness. Although the hops used in beer give it its bitter bite, the malt creates a balancing act.
While you can certainly substitute classic yellow onions, my beer cheese soup begins with sweet, mild leeks. As they melt away into the base of the soup, their natural sugars are released—thus calling on the beer’s hops to harmonize the flavors.
I have no earthly idea what I was taught in 11th grade science class, but that made sense to me.
The slight bitterness also helps to neutralize the lush, velvety character of the cheeses. Smoky, unctuous bacon makes everything better, and I love how this recipe intertwines it throughout the dish (as the soup’s aromatics are sautéed in the rendered bacon fat and its garnish is the crispy cooked bits removed at the beginning).
Whether you’re a beer-and-cheese enthusiast like me, a Wisconsinite who dripped a tad too much booze into their bowl (ope!), or someone simply craving a rich, silky soup with a kick…
I have no doubt that after one bite, we’ll all live hop-pily ever after.
- 8-ounces bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
- 1/4 cup chopped leeks
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 12-ounce bottle light lager or pilsner beer
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth (plus about 1/4 cup more for thinning the soup)
- 1 cup whole milk, warmed
- 1 1/2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- In a large pot over medium-low heat, cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the cubes are crisp about 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up any excess oil.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the leeks, celery, jalapeño, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper to the bacon fat. Sauté until the veggies have softened, about 2 minutes, and then add in the flour. Cook, whisking often until the roux is a light golden color, about 2 minutes.
- Whisk in the beer, broth, and milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the soup has thickened, about 10-12 minutes.
- Stir in the pepper jack, cheddar, smoked cheddar cheeses, Worcestershire, and the remaining salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and thin the soup with the additional stock if necessary.
- Divide among bowls and garnish with the bacon, chives, and additional cracked pepper. Serve hot with crusty bread.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 710Total Fat: 46gSaturated Fat: 22gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 132mgSodium: 2037mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 41g
- Double the dose of heat by leaving the seeds in the jalapenos and dropping a few serrano chilies into the mix.
- Although lighter lagers work like a champ when it comes to cooking with booze, that’s not to say there’s no room for dark beer. Guinness’s roasted maltiness is a shoe-in for cheesy soups.
- A classic thickener for beer cheese soup is potatoes, so don’t be shy about throwing in some spuds if you want to up the texture.
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep the Aromatics and Cook the Bacon
Chop the bacon, leeks, celery, and jalapeno and mince the garlic.
In a large pot over medium-low heat, cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the cubes are crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up any excess oil.
Step 2 – Sauté the Aromatics and Build the Roux
Reduce the heat to low and add the leeks, celery, jalapeño, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper to the bacon fat. Sauté until the veggies have softened, about 2 minutes, and then add in the flour. Cook, whisking often, until the roux is a light golden color, about 2 minutes.
Step 3 – Add the Liquids and Simmer
Whisk in the beer, broth, and milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the soup has thickened, about 10-12 minutes.
Step 4 – Stir in the Cheeses, Garnish, and Serve
Mince the chives.
Stir in the pepper jack, cheddar, smoked cheddar cheeses, Worcestershire, and the remaining salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and thin the soup with the additional stock if necessary.
Divide among bowls and garnish with the bacon, chives, and additional cracked pepper. Serve hot with crusty bread.
When Bacon, Beer, and Broth Become One.
When it comes to what type of brew to sip on while slurping down this soup, to each his own. But as far as the variety of beer splashed into the broth, I urge you to steer clear of IPAs.
There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
Although the citrusy, piney hop-bombs are my first choice for drinking, the assertive bitterness can overwhelm the soup as the flavors concentrate during the cooking process. Stick to passive, light lagers and gently spiced, golden Belgians.
Want more soups that get you feeling all gooey inside? Give these charmingly cheesy recipes a shot: