The Beer Lover’s Table: Cassoulet and Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock

What do you pair with a beer that tastes like kindled wood and toffee malts and smoked meat?

If you have all the time in the world, the answer might be brisket: slow-cooked in a smoker until its flesh has rubied, the exterior charred and the fat turned buttery. But if you’re short on time, then cassoulet, ready in an hour or two, is the ideal makings of a cool-weather meal.

A no-nonsense sausage and bean stew, cassoulet hails originally from the south of France, in the Languedoc region. This version couldn’t really be called authentic – it has no duck confit, hasn’t been cooked in goose fat, and contains off-piste ingredients like brown sugar and balsamic vinegar – but who cares? I can tell you that it will make your whole house smell of sizzled sausages and garlic, and that it will warm your hands as you stir it, and that each bowl feels like some Platonic ideal of home cooking.

It’s also the rare dish that doesn’t quail in front of a beer like Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, which hails from Bamberg, Germany. Though Schlenkerla’s Märzen is more commonly seen, the Urbock shares a good deal of its DNA. Both are rauchbiers made with malt that is kilned over beechwood logs; both contain a wondrous and potent smokiness. If the Märzen is a bit softer and lighter, then the Urbock throws any last traces of subtlety out the window. It’s beefy, brawny, intensely savoury – like drinking a glazed ham, or chewing on recently extinguished firewood. In a good way.

This Urbock certainly isn’t the kind of beer that could work with most dishes, but with cassoulet – particularly one as hearty as this, which also features smoky little nuggets of bacon lardons – it’s met its match. Because darker, maltier beers are also naturals with spice, you might also tip in a good handful of chilli flakes, or choose sausages with some kick to them, if preferred.

Either way, save this pairing for a chilly night. Even if you don’t have a fireplace of your own, every part of this meal – the heat and smoke and spice – feels like sitting in front of a blazing fire.

Cassoulet (French Sausage and Bean Stew)
Serves 4-6

12 pork sausages, preferably Toulouse-style (approximately 800g)
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
160g smoked bacon lardons
2 large yellow onions, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
4 tablespoons tomato purée (tomato paste)
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
700ml chicken stock
240ml red wine
2–3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
8–10 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1–2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 400g tin butter beans, drained and rinsed

1. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sausages (ensuring any links are snipped). Cook for approximately 10–12 minutes, turning frequently with tongs, or until the sausages are golden-brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool.

2. Add the olive oil to a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the bacon lardons, and cook for several minutes, or until starting to darken. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently for several minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1–2 minutes more before adding the carrots. Cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the carrots have softened slightly.

3. Next, season with the paprika and chilli flakes, and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomato purée and cook for 1–2 minutes. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes, stock and wine, and stir to combine before adding the brown sugar and herbs.

4. Roughly chop the cooled sausages and return to the pot. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the stew has darkened, the flavours have melded, and it has thickened and reduced. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and the butter beans, and cook for 10–15 minutes more. Season to taste, and divide between bowls.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.