Beer cheese is a combination of two of the most beloved things on the planet, so why haven’t you tried it? It’s made in Kentucky and a favorite since the 1940’s. Winchester is its home and a regional favorite around Lexington and Louisville, but it’s too good to be limited to such a small area. We’re going to change that, starting now.
What It’s Not
Let’s get something straight, beer cheese is not nacho cheese, cheese dip or queso. Real beer and real cheddar place this in a category all its own.
Birth of Beer Cheese
The 2013 Kentucky state legislature decreed Clark County the birthplace of beer cheese, but we know that’s not true. What really happened is Johnnie Allman introduced it at his restaurant there, but he brought the recipe back from his brother’s place in Arizona.
Historian Fiona Young-Brown believes beer cheese originated in the late 1800’s when bartenders, faced with dumping flat beer would add it to cheese and have a snack to serve the next day. Still, if that’s the case, why is it rarely found outside Kentucky and why was it left to little Clark County to adopt as it’s own?
You will never convince me that somebody in Germany didn’t mix beer with cheese hundreds of years ago, but it for darn sure wasn’t with cheddar.
Hot or Cold?
Beer cheese newbies always cringe when you tell them like revenge, it’s best served cold! They don’t understand it because they have the nacho-queso mindset. I think it’s pretty simple, cold beer = cold beer cheese and I love the way it softens when you dip a hot pretzel in it.
Every bar and restaurant that serves beer cheese has their own secret recipe and Johnnie Allman’s is long gone. Brittney and Jax served her Nana’s beer cheese at their wedding reception and that recipe is secret too. It means we have to make our own, but there are guidelines. A good beer cheese will use a craft lager or a dark ale and cheddar cheese. You may make it as spicy hot as you wish and include other seasonings without any restrictions, but don’t use beer that will overpower the cheddar and don’t use other cheeses, it’s just wrong.
Beer Cheese Festival and Trail
Winchester, in central Kentucky is home of the annual festival and attracts more than 10,000 visitors each year. It’s also the starting point for the Beer Cheese Trail with multiple stops to sample the local recipes.
It’s good enough to eat with your finger, but you need something to dip or spread it on. There are advocates for chips, crackers, bagels and crudite, but for my money you can’t beat a warm, salted soft pretzel. Here’s my recipe for a starting point. Ready, set, go!
- 1 lb thin sliced bacon – crispy and crumbled
- 1 bottle (12 oz) dark ale – room temperature
- 12 oz sharp cheddar cheese – shredded
- 1/2 cup reserved bacon grease
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3 garlic cloves – minced
- 1–1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1–1/2 cup half amd half
- 1–1/2 TBL garlic powder
- 1–1/2 TBL onion powder
- 1–1/2 TBL smoked paprika
- 1 TBL cayenne pepper
- 1/2 TBL chili powder
- 1/2 TBL ground mustard powder
- Salt – to taste
- Fry your bacon in a large heavy bottom pan until crispy and set aside to drain
- Lower heat to medium low, pour off the grease, but reserve a half cup
- Place the half cup of grease back into the pan, add the minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes
- Raise the heat to medium, whisk in the flour a little at a time until thoroughly combined and cooked – about 3-4 minutes
- Slowly pour in the beer while whisking until thoroughly combined
- Whisk in all the seasonings while maintaining a low simmer, allowing it to thicken
- Whisk in the half and half and heavy cream
- Whisk lightly until it returns to a simmer, then turn off the heat
- Add the cheese while whisking until it is melted and smooth
- Salt to taste
- Cool for about 30-45 minutes and divide into serving size ramekins, then chill in the refrigerator for an hour
- Garnish with the crumbled bacon
- Serve with a cold beer and warm soft, salted pretzels