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Beer for Carbonnade

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2004

When making carbonnade, purists will settle for nothing less than a traditional copper-colored Belgian ale.

When making carbonnade, purists will settle for nothing less than a traditional copper-colored Belgian ale with fruity, spicy aromas and a pleasant hoppy bitterness—our favorite is Chimay Pères Trappistes Ale Première. But is it the only choice? To find out, we pulled together nine different styles of beer, ranging from a dark, full-bodied stout to a nonalcoholic brew. We even included Bud Light (after all, it was already in the fridge).

After a few hours in the oven, the flavors you taste straight from the bottle are concentrated and easily recognized in this stew. Our tasters preferred beers that possessed plenty of sweetness matched with moderate bitterness. Light-bodied beers, like Bud Light, were noted for a mild sweetness but lacked the contrasting bitterness to make a balanced, full-flavored stew. On the other hand, brews with a high degree of bitterness often did not have enough sweetness. This was the case with Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, which came across as singularly bitter.