French onion soup with IPA – that was the idea that leapt into my head one afternoon, whilst daydreaming at work. Not French onion soup accompanied by IPA – I mean with the beer in the soup, as part of the broth. There’s nothing new, of course, and as I googled the term I discovered I’m not the first to have the idea. But I did come up with a twist that I figured was worth a try – what if I was to use a single hop Sorachi Ace IPA? It’s an unusual and divisive hop that, to me, is a big burst of citrus (lemon and clementine) with a herbal edge which recalls dill. The fruitiness will match the tang of the cheese toasts which sit, oozing on top of the broth, whilst that savoury element is a natural partner for the herbs in the soup.
Beers showcasing Sorachi Ace aren't as unusual as they used to be, though they tend to stick to the saison style (the eponymous examplefrom Brooklyn Brewery, Wild Beer’s Epic Saison, or Adnams' version for Marks & Spencer – all great beers). The only beer I've come across that fits the bill is Weird Beard’s Sorachi Face Plant, so that’s what I'm using here.
As a guide, I referred to Felicity Cloake’s ‘perfect’ French onion soup recipe, making certain changes where necessary. I'm not using any cider or brandy, as I don’t want to confuse the flavour of the beer, and I'm using vegetable stock in place of beef, as I don’t eat meat. I'm also using cheddar cheese for my toasts – not very French, I know, but I love cheddar with sweet onions and I think it’s a perfect foil for hop bitterness.
The Ginger Pig, whose recipe I initially found, suggested that the chosen beer shouldn't be “too gutsy”. This is clearly not the case for the 8.6% beast I'm using. There is a lingering, boozy bitterness in the finished dish but, I would suggest, no more than there would have been had I added a nip of brandy at the last moment, as many recipes suggest. To me, it isn't too much, especially in combination with the cheese toasts, and a taste of the beer on the side pulls everything together beautifully. If you don’t want this bitterness, something like Adnams' Marks & Spencer saison, or Bristol Beer Factory’s Sorachi, a more subtle golden ale, might make a good substitute.
This recipe takes time, but it’s not labour intensive – most of the time, you can be elsewhere while the dish cooks.
INGREDIENTS (makes 2 small, starter-sized portions or one main course)
5 onions (based on the medium-sized ones in a kilogram bag)
1 tsp plain flour
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Pinch of dried thyme
1 bay leaf
300ml vegetable stock
200ml beer (Sorachi Face Plant or other Sorachi Ace beer)
1 tsp sugar
6 medium-thick slices of baguette
Grated cheddar cheese