Ben Devlin had an idea for a pop-up B&B. No, not a bed and breakfast, something closer to his heart: beer and bread.
In 2014, when he was still head chef at Brisbane restaurant Esquire, Devlin and his partner, Yen Trinh, launched Beerkary, a pop-up bringing together beer and baked goods.
“Beerkary started as a way for us to align a few of our passions and work with some of our friends in different industries,” says Devlin. “It became a great creative outlet and a really good community-building exercise for us.”
It was also a way to combine the couple’s passion for beer and bread – literally. “We made anything we could think up,” says Devlin. “Sprouted-grain pan loaves with dark beers, amber ale sourdoughs, wheat-beer baguettes, IPA brioche.”
The Beerkary menu regularly features such items as beercarons, beerclairs and beer-flavoured ice-cream sandwiches. Devlin even made a beer-shaped rye chocolate birthday cake with stout marshmallow, caramelised milk, milk chocolate, crystal malt butter cream and Golding hops frosting.
They go way back
It sounds like a gimmick, but beer, bread and baking have a long association going back to the foundation of human civilisation. Before our ancestors cultivated grain they were hunter-gatherers living a nomadic lifestyle. They’d move from camp to camp, following game and foraging for fresh produce.
Beer and bread changed that. Around 10,000BC humans cultivated wheat and it didn’t take long for a few enterprising souls to put the grain to good use – evidence suggests both bread and beer emerged around the same time. The two staples are made from the same ingredients: water, grain, and yeast (hops were a late addition to the beer-brewing process, appearing about 1000 years ago).
The bread and beer thing caught on; in part it was these innovations responsible for encouraging our antecedents to put down roots and form towns and communities (and presumably pubs and bakeries). Ancient Egyptians baked bread and the first baker shops appeared in Athens in the 5th century BC. The Gauls and Iberians reportedly used froth from beer to make some of the best bread in ancient Europe.
Why do they work?
Science explains why beer and bread are such a good match. “Inactive or dead residual yeast that you find in beer is a great food for live yeasts,” says Devlin. “So in sourdough or yeasted breads the addition of beer can give more food for the yeast culture to feed on as well as higher protein than using water alone. That can help to get a faster proving time while still giving a full flavour that fast-proved doughs frequently don't have.” The resulting loaves often have an open crumb and large irregular bubbles due to faster fermentation.
Devlin is now the head chef at Paper Daisy at Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach, where he uses stout in his sprouted rye bread. His advice to home bakers is to “get wild and experiment to get the results you want.” He has found that hoppy beers such as IPAs can turn bitter with heavy cooking, so they should be approached with care.
Beer can be worked into most bread recipes, though Devlin advises against straight-swapping 100 per cent of the recommended volume of water for beer.
“I would start by deciding on the bread dough you want to eat, and the beer that you would drink with it,” he says. “Then substitute about one third of the water used in the recipe for that beer, and follow the recipe as you normally would.”
Depending on your level of experience, try these beer and bread recipes at home.
For the beginner …
Basic Beer Bread Recipe
Makes one loaf
110ml of water
220ml James Squire 150 Lashes
375g self-raising flour
3 tsp of sugar
Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir. Place in a greased bread tin and cook in oven at 180°C for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Tip: For an extra crispy crust, lather the tin with excess butter and spread on top of dough before baking.
For the expert …
Ben Devlin’s Sourdough Rye Bread
Makes one loaf
100g mature starter
400g whole rye flour
400ml of water
1100g rye starter
30g malt extract
460g whole rye flour
400g sprouted rye grains
Mix starter ingredients together in a mixing bowl, cover and leave at room temperature for 6–8 hours. Mix together remaining ingredients and allow to prove for 3 hours. Shape into tins, dust with rye flour, cover and prove in the fridge for 6–8 hours. Bake at 210˚C for 15minutes, then drop to 160˚C for 30 minutes. Turn tins around and cook for another 30 minutes at 160˚C. Remove and let cool.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.