Liptauer, ktipiti, almogrote and obatzda are lovely words, but none of these names of global cheese spreads, arguably, have the simple mouthwatering elegance of “beer cheese.” This cousin of pimento, pub cheese, Port wine cheese, fromage fort, Benedictine and others deserves to be in your regular repertoire of dips and spreads.
What Is Beer Cheese?
Beer cheese is a spread made from cheese—usually cheddar—blended with beer and a few spices until smooth. It can be served as the classic uncooked spread or versions that more closely resemble fondue or beer cheese soup. It’s paired with crackers, pretzels and/or raw vegetables.
“Beer cheese is like Dolly Parton, even the bad beer cheese is good,” says Bundy K. Brown, sommelier and longtime Kentucky resident. “Tarted-up beer cheese may be as close as it comes to ‘bad’ but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an example of that.”
Where Does Beer Cheese Come From?
Beer cheese originated in Kentucky—and is still ubiquitous there—but has found a devoted fanbase throughout the country. And one can assume that someone combined beer and cheese at an earlier date.
In fact, the spread that we know today goes back to the late 1930s, originating at a restaurant called The Driftwood Inn, near Boonesborough on the banks of the Kentucky River.
Joe Allman, cousin of the owner Johnnie Allman, created a spread he called “Snappy Cheese” to encourage beer consumption at the restaurant. Its popularity never waned, and though the original recipe has never been revealed, two companies claim to sell the real thing; Allman’s Beer Cheese, owned by Johnnie Allman’s grandson, and Howard’s Creek, whose version has been authenticated by Joe Allman’s son.
Still, there are as many versions of beer cheese as there are home cooks.
“I think as far as rules or authenticity is concerned, it’s all local or household preference,” says Brown, while acknowledging some guidelines. “Beer cheese is not really dippable straight out of the fridge or shouldn’t be. The stuff you buy in the supermarket is because it’s got all kinds of emulsifiers and stabilizers in it.”
Brown continued, “But the cheese ratio should be high enough that it’s pretty stiff when cold. Nine times out of ten, it’s cheddar-based and should have a sharpness to it, though you’ll often see as much as half the cheese be pepper jack. It should have a little grain to it, not glossy and smooth like pump or processed cheese.”
Finally, the spice level can vary when it comes to beer cheese. “In my experience, beer cheese is less spicy than even pimento cheese—which is usually just a five out of 10. But it has to have some bite; often that’s a mustardy bite.”