Skip the water and open a beer for perfect fall chili!

Wendy Raymond

, Bon Appétit
beer, chili

Always remember to enjoy your favorite craft beer as your chili simmers.

As I was whipping up a pot of chili yesterday, I began to think of chili recipes that call for a bottle of beer, or perhaps could be enhanced by this flavorful addition. I wanted to add beer to my own recipe, but I hesitated, not knowing what kind of beer to add. I love pairing food with brews, but how do certain styles of beer affect a chili recipe? So I decided to investigate this beer-in-chili conundrum I was having.


There is a science to adding beer to recipes.


  • The alcohol in beer absorbs the chili’s flavors, and as the alcohol evaporates, the depth of the chili is enhanced.


  • Fear not, almost all alcohol from beer is cooked out of the chili.


  • The longer the chili cooks, the better the beer will activate the flavors of the peppers and chili powder.


Now that you know how beer works in the scientific aspect, let’s move on to the beer styles that make the magic happen. The golden rule of making any recipe that calls for beer is that one must have two beers in hand, one for drinking and one for the recipe. That will get you started on very solid footing.


The style of beer you use in your chili is a personal decision. Red Otter Red Ale from Eleven Lakes Brewing in Cornelius is a perfect choice if you are looking for a caramelized flavor with a slight sweetness. Brown ales have also been a favorite to add to chili with their malty flavors and not-so-bitter taste.


With today’s craze of IPAs you may be wondering if they have a place in chili recipes. The hop flavors of IPAs complement the spiciness of your chili. However, hop flavors can be overpowering and leave you with a citrus and piney overtone, so tread lightly on how hoppy of a beer you throw in.


Flavor preferences are very personal, but your beer choice can enhance your personal level of spiciness and sweetness. I’ve heard if you are camping and making chili, beer is a better liquid substitute than river water. I’m not a camper so I wouldn’t know. However, if you do ask me for my chili recipe, I’ll tell you it’s a secret.

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