Beer Cheese Soup: A Wisconsin Classic

Beer Cheese Soup

Wisconsin beer cheese soup is a favorite in pubs and fine restaurants alike. Learn how to make easy beer cheese soup…including in a slow cooker.

Beer. Cheese. They’re the top two food groups in Wisconsin. And in the frigid Wisconsin winters, there’s no better way to warm up than with soup. No wonder beer cheese soup is a favorite around here.

Beer Cheese Soup

Not surprisingly, as do many of the people here in Wisconsin, beer cheese soup has its roots in Germany…or at least beer soup does. While it’s no longer found in modern German cuisine (which seems odd, come to think of it), beer soup was quite common in central Europe in medieval times, when it was often eaten with bread as breakfast. The early beer soups were typically based on dark beer, cream and egg yolk thickened with fat and flour cooked together in a roux. Eventually they were flavored with onions, spices and cheese to create a more substantial and satisfying dish. As cheese became a primary ingredient—particularly in England, where Cheddar is king—the soup took on some of the zesty flavors associated with Welsh rarebit, like mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

Today beer cheese soup is a staple in restaurants throughout Wisconsin, and anywhere else beer and cheese are appreciated. Some places do it quick and easy, while others elevate it to an art form with the very finest of ingredients. (At a 2015 gala dinner celebrating Wisconsin Cheddar, one chef used a 10-year-old Cheddar in the soup course.) As you will see, time is not really much of a factor; where your soup falls on the quality continuum depends mostly on your choice of ingredients.

Beer Cheese Soup Recipe Basics

Seasonings aside, there are three main ingredients that go into beer cheese soup: stock or broth (usually chicken), beer, and cheese.

The Stock

Of course, any chef will tell you that making your own stock is essential to great cooking, and we’re not about to argue. Learn to make your own stock, and the quality of your cooking will increase dramatically. But in this soup the beer and cheese are the stars, so if you need to use purchased chicken broth, we won’t blame you one bit. And if you prefer to make this a vegetarian dish (lacto-vegetarian, of course, as a real cheese soup will never be vegan), a vegetable stock is completely acceptable and delicious. Now, on to the main players…

The Beer

Most beer cheese soup recipes simply call for “beer”, but in reality, the kind of beer you use is one of the keys to your success. Naturally, we recommend Wisconsin beer for Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup. But we realize that not all of our favorite craft beers are available outside our great state. So instead, we’ll steer in the direction of beer types.

This is not the time to crack open a can of light beer. While it may be refreshing after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day, it doesn’t have enough flavor to support this soup. What you’re looking for is a malty sweetness to balance the tang of the cheese.

The medieval German recipe called for brown (dark) beer, and many modern recipes will call for a porter or stout. These are certainly powerhouses in the malt category and will add excellent flavor, but the intense darkness of the deeply roasted malts can turn your soup a rather unappetizing color. Also, make sure you stay away from some of the craft stouts that have had coffee or chocolate added to them.

You will also want to stay away from highly hopped IPAs (India Pale Ales) and APAs (American Pale Ales). While they are the most popular craft beers to drink today, the high volume of hops will add too much bitterness.

Your best bet is a farmhouse or session ale, or a light red or brown ale with an emphasis on malt and not so much on the hops. A full-strength American lager like Point, Leinenkugel’s, or good old Miller High Life (to name some Wisconsin examples) will do, but an English-style brown or amber ale is best. The recipe in this article was tested with Capital Amber from Madison, Wisconsin…with an extra for the cook.

The Cheese

Despite the German origins of this soup, the real deal is Cheddar cheese…preferably sharp. Some people like to add a little Muenster or Havarti for creaminess, a little Swiss for some nutty notes or maybe a little cream cheese for meltability, but sharp Cheddar provides the tangy backbone of flavor that really defines this soup.

Speaking of meltability, we know some people are tempted to use the pasteurized process cheese food product (which shall be unnamed) generally used in many a queso dip. Don’t go there.

So now that we’ve defined the building blocks, let’s make this satisfying, and very easy, beer cheese soup…

Easy Beer Cheese Soup

4 to 6 servings

 

½ stick (¼ cup) butter

1 large yellow onion, chopped (2 cups)

2 celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

2 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1¾ cups chicken broth

1 (12 fl. oz.) bottle beer

2 cups half-and-half

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

12 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups)

Freshly popped popcorn

 

Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic and bay leaf; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle flour over vegetables; cook another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, beer and half-and-half gradually, stirring constantly; simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and cayenne.

Remove bay leaf; purée soup with an immersion blender until fairly smooth (this step is not necessary, but gives a more appealing appearance and texture).

Add cheese gradually, stirring constantly, and cook another 3 or 4 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serve immediately, garnished with popcorn.

Beer Cheese Soup: Slow Cooker/Reduced-Fat Technique

With only about a 40-minute cooking time, this soup is great for weekdays. But if you want your slow cooker to do a lot of the work while you’re away, beer cheese soup is very adaptable to this favorite technique—with just a couple of modifications, one of which reduces the fat content. There will still be a little bit of cooking left to do to finish the soup when you get home.

1 large yellow onion, chopped (2 cups)

2 celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

2 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1¾ cups chicken broth

1 (12 fl. oz.) bottle beer

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup water

2 cups half-and-half

12 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups)

Freshly popped popcorn

 

Place first 11 ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours.

Remove bay leaf; purée soup with an immersion blender until fairly smooth (optional).

Whisk flour and water together; add slowly to soup, stirring constantly. Cover and cook another 15 minutes, or until soup is thickened.

Stir in half-and-half and cheese gradually, stirring constantly, and cook another 3 or 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and soup is heated through.

Serve immediately, garnished with popcorn.

 

Save

2 Responses to Beer Cheese Soup: A Wisconsin Classic

  1. Beth January 24, 2017 at 4:05 pm #

    The image shows sausage. What types are recommended and when/ how is it added. Cooked first?

    • severson January 25, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

      Thanks for asking, Beth! That’s actually a stock photo and not the real recipe. You could certainly slice some fully cooked kielbasa or smoked ring bologna and add it to the soup just after the cheese is added. Otherwise, our favorite is to serve the soup as-is with some Wisconsin Cheeseman Summer Sausage on the side!

Leave a Reply