Ben Starr – Making Your Favorite Beer into a Jam
by Ben Starr, Lewisville, TX based travel writer and MasterChef contestant
Beer is moving in just-the-right direction for a home-brewing chef like me: away from the stringent, German definition of beer (ONLY malt, water, yeast, and hops) and straight into the pantry, refrigerator, garden, and/or root cellar. Gone are the days when beers brewed with fruit, herbs, or spices were frowned upon the way wine snobs scowl at “White Zinfandel.” Nowadays, I find it incredibly hard to purchase any beer that DOESN’T contain a culinary ingredient. Give me that grapefruit ginger IPA, that peach wit, that pretzel stout, or that habanero Imperial any day of the week over a boring, traditional style. Our palates have moved beyond our traditions!
While there’s no shortage on cooking recipes calling for wine, I’m still rather appalled that beer has traditionally been relegated to batters for deep frying, a stand for roasting a chicken, and as a secondary ingredient in chili. In the kitchen, the spectrum of beer varieties far overshadows the spectrum of wine. There should be MORE use for it in cooking, not less!
I hope to introduce you to new ways of incorporating beer in your recipes and I think I’ll start with breakfast, thank you very much!
Both wine and beer make excellent base liquids for jams; but while you can often find Cabernet jelly at specialty shops, beer jam is harder to find. Yet it’s frighteningly simple to make at home. If you’re a home-brewer like me, you’ll be making a jam that no one else on the planet could ever possibly replicate. How’s that for a Christmas or birthday present?
There are two directions you can go when creating a beer jam recipe: 1.) Feature the beer itself as the primary flavor. 2.) Use it as a backbone to build a jam with other ingredients.
Both options are superb, but if you’re going with the first one, you’ll need to select a beer with a TON of unique, bold flavors. So look to the IPAs, stouts, and many of the Belgian styles such as lambics, strong ales, sours, etc.. The more aroma and flavor, the better the jam (don’t expect something striking from a can of Budweiser).
If you decide to use beer as your base for a fruit/herb/vegetable jam, you can look to the lighter styles or to one of the many culinary beers that already exist. One of my favorite beer jams is a blood-orange and honey marmalade I make using Revolver Brewing’s Blood and Honey Ale, to which I add blood-orange zest and juice along with honey from my friend’s bees. I also make a killer grapefruit ginger marmalade using Shiner’s Ruby Redbird.
However, you do not have to align your jam’s flavors with the flavors already in the beer! The more creative you are the more brownie points you might score. What about using a Chocolate Stout as the base for a savory tomato jam? Or a Double IPA as the base for a mint and basil jelly? Or a Sour Cherry Ale as a base for a jalapeno jam? The sky is the limit. But if you end up with a resulting jam that’s barely edible, all you’ve done is teach yourself a lesson and gifted your friends and family with a great story to burn you with at the next get-together.
Let’s start with a base recipe: a framework that can be used to expand into an infinite variety of jams. This recipe, if followed exactly, will produce three pint/six half-pint jars of jam. The only special ingredients and equipment you’ll need are low-sugar pectin, (available in the canning section of most grocery stores year-round), empty jars and lids, and a VERY large pot… beer foams like crazy when you boil it.
If you want to be able to store your jam in your pantry until it’s opened for the first time, you will have to “can” your jam — which is pretty simple. All you need is a big pot and fresh “gum” lids which most grocery stores carry year-round as well. You will need to sterilize the jars and lids before you begin making your jam. For most folks, it’s as simple as running them through the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher (toss a half cup of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher for good measure) and leaving the dishwasher closed until you’re ready to ladle the jam into your jars. You can also boil the jars and lids in hot water for 10 minutes or place them in the oven at 200F for an hour. Obviously, you’ll want to handle these jars very carefully once you’re ready to work with them, so canning tongs or sturdy oven mitts are in order. A canning funnel will also be useful. Additionally, the jars should be hot when you ladle your jam into them.
One last piece of advice: Set a regular sized dinner plate in your freezer (I’ll explain why later).
TO MAKE THE JAM:
Take one of the biggest pots you have (unless you regularly make chili for 100, in which case, take one of your smallest big pots) and place it on your stovetop over high heat. If you have two large pots, fill one halfway with water and preheat over high heat to use for canning. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your jam-making pot as your canning pot as soon as you’re done making the jam.
Into the pot, add:
3 – 12oz bottles or cans (or 4 ½ cups if home-brewer) of your chosen beer
Stir the beer vigorously with a whisk. This will help to de-gas the beer, removing some of the dissolved carbon dioxide that will contribute to the prolific foaming once the beer is heated. Once the beer is not foaming as much with whisking, you can stop and then add:
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
“VINEGAR???” you ask? Yes, vinegar. Vinegar may be the second most important ingredient in any chef’s life behind salt. Vinegar allows you to perfectly balance the acidity of a dish. This flavor is described as the “brightness” in the chef world. The careful and balanced use of vinegar (or another acid like lemon juice or wine) allows you to use less salt and still create a dish that is seasoned to perfection. In this case, many beer styles are lacking acidity (except for sours and some fruit beers) and the addition of vinegar helps brighten up the jam.
Additionally, apple products contain a significant amount of pectin which is the thickening agent that makes the beer go from a liquid to a jam.
In a bowl, stir together:
½ cup sugar
1 package Sure-Jell low-sugar pectin
It’s important to get the low-sugar pectin, because regular pectin requires a vast amount of sugar to jell properly. You don’t want the jam to be so sweet that you can’t taste the beer!
Stir the pectin and sugar into the hot beer and whisk until it’s completely dissolved. As the beer mixture comes to a boil, it’s going to froth like crazy which will eventually subside.
Once the beer is boiling, add:
2 additional cups sugar (you may lower this amount if using a sweeter beer like a fruit lambic)
Stir until dissolved and bring to a boil once again. Boil it hard for one minute and then pull out that plate from the freezer. Dip a clean spoon into the hot jam, drip a few drops onto the cold plate, and wait a few seconds. If the jam thickens up to your liking, it’s ready. If you want a thicker jam, boil another few minutes and re-test. When the jam thickens up to your satisfaction, remove the pot from the heat and carefully ladle the hot jam into your hot jars. A canning funnel will keep the mess to a minimum. Leave about 1/4” of headspace in each jar. Carefully wipe the rims of each jar with a clean damp washcloth or paper towel to ensure there’s no jam on them. Gently set the hot gum-lids onto the jars and tighten with ring lids just until they’re barely snug.
At this point, you have two options. If all the canning talk has you nervous, you can simply wait an hour or so for the jars to cool a bit, chunk them in your fridge, and keep them refrigerated until you’ve eaten all the jam. Or you could can the jam which is extremely easy:
Lower the filled jars into the boiling water in the other pot (or the cleaned out jam pot). The water level should be at least 1” above the jar lids. Canning tongs work really well for this, but you can manage with long kitchen tongs. Once all jars are under the water, bring the water back to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars, let them cool to room temperature, and you’ll hear “pops” as the gum lids suction down during the cooling process. Any jars that have lids that did not suction down onto the jar (meaning you hear a “click” when you push on the center) need to be re-boiled for 20 minutes until they seal.
Now your jam is shelf-stable at room temperature! You can store them, give them to friends, and they won’t need to be refrigerated until they are open.
What if you’re not satisfied with the intensity of the beer flavor in your jam? What if you want MORE flavor? Just start with twice as much beer and reduce the beer to 4 ½ cups, concentrating the flavor. Then proceed with the base recipe.
Now what about jam with other ingredients? Say, a peach jam with Belgian wit as a base? Simply double the recipe, but use five cups of chopped fruit, citrus peels, berries, vegetables, etc. in place of the doubled amount of beer: 3 bottles of beer, 5 cups chopped fruit, 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup sugar combined with 2 packages low-sugar pectin, and 4 additional cups sugar. After the beer has come to a boil, add the fruit and simmer for five minutes and then proceed with the recipe as normal. This skeleton recipe can be used to produce an infinite number of jams, with your creativity being the only limit.