Buying Beer, Part 7: What the Chefs Drink

Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly knows kitchen beer. Here, he's at The Hay Merchant with Saint Arnold Brewing Company's Lawnmower, made right here in Houston.
Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly knows kitchen beer. Here, he's at The Hay Merchant with Saint Arnold Brewing Company's Lawnmower, made right here in Houston.
Photo by Lindsey Brown

Hardcore beer collectors often go for those with big flavor, like barrel-aged stouts and IPAs. These, however, are not the beers of the working class. When people are hot, sweaty, tired and busy, the last thing desired is a strong, thick, high-alcohol beer.

Enter the American adjunct lager, the top-selling style of beer in the nation. Yes, yes, that category includes all those lame beers, but there are others that get a little more affection — especially from chefs. The same beers are perfect for other strenuous activities, like mowing the lawn: hence the term “lawnmower beer.” Characteristics of perfect kitchen beers are low alcohol (therefore more water content), light color and mild flavors.

“Adjunct” in beer-speak means “a supplemental ingredient.” In the case of American adjunct lagers, something else is added during the brewing process, such as grits, corn, unmalted barley or another grain. Sometimes the purpose is to cut costs. Other times, the brewer is trying to achieve a particular flavor or color.

There are other, more interesting styles just as suitable for the task of keeping a thirsty worker hydrated and happy — and that have higher aspirations to quality. 

What do chefs drink in the kitchen? Well, this IS Texas.
What do chefs drink in the kitchen? Well, this IS Texas.
Photo by Alex Gregg

Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly was the inspiration for this part of the Buying Beer series. We were at Underbelly discussing the remainder series with Kevin Floyd of The Hay Merchant (who has been instrumental as a subject matter expert), and Shepherd’s eyes lit up. He rapidly rattled off six beers that have an honored role in his kitchen and said, “Why don’t you do a part called ‘What the Chefs Drink”?
We thought it was a great idea and started asking other chefs for their preferred kitchen beers. The list ended up being much longer and more diverse than expected.

This is a beer category where quality and rarity aren’t priorities. Is it cheap? Is it quaffable? Does it come in 12-packs, or at least six-packs? Does it contain alcohol?

“Cold, cheap beer makes for the best kitchen beer,” wrote chef Eddie Kiel. “PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon], Coors, Modelo, etc. It really doesn’t matter after 10+ hours.”

If the beer comes in a can that can be crushed afterward, that’s just an entertaining bonus.

Another reason for the affection — especially for the classics in this list — is that they're what Dad drank in the garage or what Grandpa drank while watching football on TV. When it comes to food memories — or beer memories — there is no right or wrong.

Oh, and don’t think that just because some of these beers don’t have a high Beer Advocate rating means that the chefs drinking them have no taste. Some of the very best chefs who make the most complicated dishes dig the simplest beers on the job. For people who have to taste food day in and day out, uncomplicated beers help combat palate fatigue.

Classic Kitchen Beers

Coors Light, Coors Brewing Company, 4.2-percent ABV

This one comes with a rule from head sushi chef Yoshinori Katsuyama at Uchi Houston: “Cans only!” Does anyone actually drink Coors from a bottle, anyway? By the way, “light lagers” are essentially American adjunct lagers lightened with cereal and corn in order to reduce carbohydrates — and therefore calories.

Lone Star, Pabst Brewing Company, 4.65-percent ABV

There’s a rumor that this beer is “brewed by Russians,” and that's not quite accurate. It’s brewed in Fort Worth by Miller, but the brand is owned by Pabst, which is in turn owned by Russian-born Eugene Kashper. Either way, when it comes to kitchen beers in Houston, this is one of the most ubiquitous. Chef Kris Jakob of forthcoming restaurant Brasserie 1895 in Friendswood says he drinks it “so cold you can taste nothing but carbonated H2O. Also, “It’s cheap,” says chef Roland Soza of Manor House at The Houstonian.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pabst Brewing Company, 4.74 percent ABV

Chef David Coffman says kitchen beers are “Lone Star or Pabst Blue ribbon, depending on where you’re from.” Indeed, Pabst seems to be the kitchen beer of choice for the younger crowd who weren’t necessarily raised in Texas.

Shiner Bock, Spoetzl Brewery, 4.4 percent ABV

Shiner Bock is one of the more fully flavored beers on this list and has a rich history to boot. It was first brewed in Shiner, Texas, in 1913 by Bavarian-born Kosmos Spoetzl and was originally considered a “Lent beer.” In 1973, the brewery started making it available year-round. When Spoetzl died in 1950, his daughter, “Miss Cecile,” became the first woman to own a brewery in the United States. Spoetzl Brewery is currently owned by The Gambrinus Company, a private, family-owned operation.

Imported Kitchen Beers

Asahi Super Dry, Asahi Breweries Ltd., 5 percent ABV

This is the best kitchen beer for those who want to maintain some modicum of class. It’s a Japanese-made lager made with rice, and chef Micah Rideout of KUU has the best idea for it: “Asahi sake bombs!” We’ll be right over.

Tecate, Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma (Heineken), 4.55 percent ABV

Monica Richards, whose father is chef and owner of Arnaldo Richards’ Picos, says this is Picos’ official kitchen beer. It seems like the right answer for one of Houston’s most classic and respected Mexican restaurants. A little wedge of fresh lime and salt doesn’t hurt one bit.

Locally Made Kitchen Beers

Sam’s Daily, Buffalo Brewing Company, 5.8 ABV

Sam’s Daily was created specifically as a local alternative to Lone Star. It’s a cream ale, which means it is fermented at higher temperatures, but drinks like a lager. It’s also one of the beers with the highest ABV in this list.

Fancy Lawnmower, Saint Arnold Brewing Company, 4.9-percent ABV

Kölsch beers were originally brewed in Cologne, Germany, and Saint Arnold did such a good job creating its version that it won gold medals twice at the Great American Beer Festival. The Houston-based brewery originally created Fancy Lawnmower because it wanted a more delicate beer in its portfolio. By the way, Saint Arnold's beer Weedwhacker is exactly the same as Lawnmower but fermented with Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast instead of Kölsch yeast.

Weisse Versa Wheat, Karbach Brewing Company, 5.3 percent ABV

This is one of Karbach’s mainstays and can be found just about all over Houston, even in convenience stores. Karbach recommends pairing it with sausages, grilled fish and light salads.

Sympathy For The Lager, Karbach Brewing Company, 4.9 percent ABV

At 40 IBUs, Sympathy For The Lager is much bolder in flavor than Weisse Versa wheat but still low-alcohol. That means it also stands up to more flavorful foods, too. Karbach’s recommended pairings include pizza and tacos.

Blonde Bombshell, Southern Star Brewing Company, 5.25 percent ABV

This is the best-known of the Conroe brewery’s beers. The refreshing American blond ale is available year-round, and there are just enough hops added to balance the bready finish.

After-Work Beers

Fortunately, even the hardest work nights eventually come to an end. Here are a few beers that chefs enjoy after work.

Victory "Golden Monkey" Tripel, 9.5 percent ABV

This beer first appeared in Buying Beer, Part 1: Beers For Everyday Drinking, and chef Kristofer Jakob of forthcoming Brasserie 1895 in Friendswood says it is great at the end of a hard shift. Sean Jensen of Public Services Wine & Whisky cited it as one of the best domestic triples and warns, “It will sneak up on you fast.”

Oro de Calabaza, Jolly Pumpkin, 8 percent ABV

Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly keeps this bière de garde around for when he’s off work. It’s a crispy, citrusy beer with a slight bit of funk and sourness. 

Join us next week for the final part of our series, "Great Beers At Great Prices," where we'll look at quality beers that deliver the best bang for the buck. 


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