It’s football time in Packerland again. The leaves are just past the peak of their autumn gorgeousness. It’s still unseasonably warm outside, but a distinct chill begins permeating the air early the evening. The stillness is punctuated by the occasional cacophony of squawking Sandhill Cranes migrating from the soon-to-be-frozen Wisconsin hinterlands.
Times like these usually find me on a soup and comfort food bender.
What could be better than a soup that is also the most comforting of comfort foods? Beer cheese soup fits that bill. A couple of years ago, I ordered some at a pub in Northern Wisconsin. It was meh. I knew that I could do better, but it took me until last week to actually attempt it.
Beer Cheese Soup
This soup has tons of flavor built in by virtue of onions, celery, and garlic that get slowly sautéed until completely soft (the soup gets buzzed later with an immersion blender so it’s smooth). There’s a shot of mustard and hot sauce, neither of which is detectable, but rather act to punch up the cheese flavor even more. A subtle hit of thyme knocks the flavor out of the park.
Although I used an amber ale for this first whack at beer cheese soup, I’d recommend a very mild ale or lager. Some of the beer gets cooked down before whisking in the roux and adding cheese, which really accentuates the yeasty, rich beer flavor while removing the alcohol taste. I used a mix of mild and extra-sharp Wisconsin cheese (it was actually labeled “Super Super Super Sharp Cheddar), though you can certainly opt for a smoky flavor by using a small amount of smoked cheddar.
The cool kids float popped popcorn on their beer cheese soup. I get the concept: oooh, popcorn on soup, how UNEXPECTED! The complexity of the texture and flavor is so SUBLIME! Blech. I’ve never been a fan of this practice, most likely because I was turned off by the slightly burned, acrid popcorn that topped the beer cheese soup offering in Northern Wisconsin. But even under normal circumstances, popcorn on soup to me is just…weird.
Instead, I arrived at pretzel croutons: a nod to Wisconsin’s heavily German heritage, yes, but mostly because pretzels and cheese sauce are among Phil’s favorite things on the planet. So, I cut pretzel buns into cubes and tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, and then baked them in the oven until crispy. Oyster crackers are another topping possibility, though the croutons are our favorite.
This soup is great for football parties. You can make it the night before (recommended, actually, because the flavors deepen overnight) and then gently reheat it, stirring frequently (we don’t want scorching!) before gametime. Serve it buffet-style out of the crockpot, letting your guests add the croutons to the soup.
And there you have it. A Wisconsin-inspired, decadence-in-a-bowl soup experience, from a cheesehead-at-heart football fan who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing an actual cheesehead as a fashion accessory. Enjoy!
- For the croutons:
- 2 cups of pretzel buns sliced into ½" cubes
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- 1 tsp. yellow mustard
- ½ tsp. hot sauce (I used Sri Racha)
- ½ tsp. salt
- several grinds of black pepper
- For the soup:
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ tbsp. dried thyme
- One 12-ounce bottle lager or pilsner
- 2 to 2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth (see
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ lb. extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
- 4 oz. mild cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- For the croutons:
- For the croutons, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix all crouton ingredients and spread the bread cubes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, giving the cubes a stir halfway through, until golden and crunchy.
- For the soup:
- Heat 1 tbsp. of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic; sweat the vegetables until completely softened, 10-15 minutes. Add in the thyme and cook for an additional minute. Pour in half of the beer; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes (I sometimes take a picture of the liquid level at the beginning of this cook time so I can compare). Add 2 cups of chicken broth, the mustard, and the hot sauce; stir to combine. Purée with an immersion blender and bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, make a roux by melting the remaining butter in a small skillet. Add in the flour and stir, cooking over moderate heat, until a light blonde color develops, ~2 minutes. Add the mixture into the soup, whisking like crazy, until completely incorporated. Bring the soup to a simmer.
- Continue simmering until thickened, ~8 minutes. Add in the cream, cheeses, and the remaining beer. Simmer until thickened and creamy, stirring occasionally, ~5 minutes more. Serve the soup topped with the pretzel croutons.