Cheers beer to cooking with
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
The woman who wrote the book on beer in Hawai'i never particularly cared for the brew.
"I remember growing up watching the Super Bowl on TV and we'd have all the family around and the guys would have their Buds and I'd take a sip and it just didn't taste good at all," recalled Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, author of the recently published "The Hawai'i Beer Book" (Watermark, paperback spiral, $15.95).
But some months ago, Chee was talking to a friend, a firefighter who spends his days off nursing batches of home brew, a hobby about which he is passionate. As writers tend to do, she began asking questions, the conversation turning into an interview. She learned that the Islands are now home to eight craft breweries and an enthusiastic home-brewing underground. Suddenly, she said, "a lightbulb went off: This is a book."
Having sold Watermark publisher George Engebretson on the idea, Tsutsumi researched the history of brewing and breweries in Hawai'i, beermaking, beer trivia, beer cuisine and the best places to quaff an ale, stout or porter, giving the book appeal to both locals and beer-loving visitors.
"I started out knowing zero about beer," said Tsutsumi.
Now she's a walking database: The first recorded brewing of beer in Hawai'i was in a journal entry by Don Francisco de Paula Marin on Feb. 2, 1812. Primo (the loved and reviled suds of the Islands, which is about to be revived) was first released Feb. 13, 1901, and the last bottles rolled off the line in 1998. The first contemporary craft beer was Albion, released in Sonoma, Calif., in 1976; the first in the Islands was Gordon Biersch, which opened here in 1994.
Tsutsumi acknowledges that the Islands were a bit behind the times with regard to the craft beer trend, which kicked off around much of the country in the 1970s. This had partly to do with a law that prohibited brewpubs from engaging in off-property sales. That law was changed in 2003. Now you can buy a "growler" — a refillable container, usually about a half-gallon — of fresh-made beer in pubs such as Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch & Crab, where his Big Aloha beer is made.
Still, our locally grown brew pubs are doing well. Kona Brewing Co., the state's largest, has won numerous awards nationally and internationally, for instance, and its beers are available on the Mainland and in Japan.
Although the vast majority of beer drinkers go for the gusto (translation: quantity, not quality; consistency, not nuance), there is a growing understanding here of beer's variety and qualities and more people who drink for the flavor and not the effect.
"Beer appreciation is just like wine appreciation," Tsutsumi said. "And there ARE beer snobs. You put it in the right glass, you swirl it, you sniff it, you admire the color and head (which is the foam). You never guzzle, you sip. It's not anything like I imagined beer drinkers would be; it's very sophisticated."
Tsutsumi has learned a thing or two about cooking with beer, too. She gathered about a dozen recipes from local chefs and home cooks for her Beer Cuisine chapter. She also cruised about online and found that beer cook.com is one of the best Web sites for information and recipes on cooking with beer.
One of Tsutsumi's sources was Romi Chapman of Kahala, who never appreciated beer in her native Japan, but learned to like it after she traveled to Europe as a flight attendant for Lufthansa.
"German beer was really good, really different from what I had had," Chapman said.
At the time, she wasn't into cooking but later, when she began experimenting in the kitchen, she remembered a German dish she really liked: bratwurst sausages braised in beer. Soon, she was basting her Thanksgiving turkey with Heineken (she lets it go flat in the refrigerator).
Another of her favorites is a beer-cheese soup: "I found the recipe in a cookbook and changed it around a little bit. I really like it ... but, it's not diet food."
Tsutsumi offers this advice for using beer in cooking (and it sounds a lot like the advice given for cooking with wine).
Reach Wanda A. Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.