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Oly Pancakes

Oakland Tribune staff food writer Steve Dulas did a fun piece on food for camping last week. He included baked apple, chili and, naturally, camp-style bean soup. But what caught my attention was a recipe for beer pancakes. Basically, the recipe calls for using a mix and substituting beer for the water, also including some oil or grease. But the author insists that Olympia beer must be used and that no other beer may be substituted. Hmm. They claim to have tried using a different beer that didn’t work as well, but neglected to tell us which beer they tried. As long as you use a beer similar to Oly, I really can’t see it making much of a difference.

Even Olympia beer, of course, hasn’t really been Olympia beer for at least four years, when SABMiller closed the old Tumwater, Washington brewery on July 1, 2003. Since that time it’s been made at any number of Miller breweries dotted throughout the west. Before that Olympia bought Hamm’s and Lone Star, but business continued to decline and the family (the Schmidt’s) decided in 1982 to sell to G. Heilemann, then one of the largest brewery businesses in the U.S. The following year, Pabst bought Heilemann, who later sold it to Stroh’s, which itself was eventually bought by Miller Brewing. Union politics probably led Miller to close Olympia, who by then was also brewing many other regional brands such as Hamm’s, Lucky Lager, Henry Weinhard and Rainier.

Olympia beer — than and now — is one of dozens of regional American-style light lagers that are all but interchangeable. What makes any of them unique has more to do with marketing and perception than reality. People don’t buy Olympia because it’s good, they buy it because it’s cheap. As pointed out by The Snitch (a blog at SF Weekly) Olympia beer is the “Offical Beer of 18-year-olds Walking Through the Door, Hoisting a 12-Pack Overhead and Shouting ‘Woo-Hoo!'” The Snitch tried Dulas’ recipe, both with Oly and Henry Weinhard’s Blue Boar Ale, perhaps not realizing the Henry Weinhard is an “ale” and Oly is a “lager,” concluding that the Oly was discernibly better. I’m still willing to bet any cheap lager will make the pancakes taste exactly the same.

The Snitch also wonders aloud (a-print just didn’t sound right) what the pancakes might taste like if made with “Pyramid Apricot Ale or Bass Peach Ale?” I’m not sure there’s enough apricot flavor in the Pyramid to give the pancakes any sweetness. The Bass suggestion is a complete bust, of course, because there is no such beer. The Snitch also ruminates over “Cranberry Lambic,” by which I presume he means Samuel Adams’ version of a lambic. And lastly, he believes Arthur Guinness would “come back from the dead and stop you” if you tried using his stout. I’m not sure why he feels so strongly about Guinness given that it has been used successfully in cooking for centuries. Despite being dark in color, it’s quite light-bodied and thus might work quite well in pancakes.

Certainly, the notion of taking the idea from the campground into the kitchen is an intriguing one, as is using different beers. For that to work best, I think, you’d have to throw out the mix and make the batter from scratch, however, and use richer beers to have them actually affect the taste of the pancakes beyond fluffiness and texture. Would the yeast in a bottle-conditioned beer contribute anything? [Lucy, Bruce, Sean – anyone know?] It could be fun to use something like Marin’s Blueberry Ale or a syrupy wood-aged beer.

Perhaps it was because I was hungry when I first read the article, but I think I’ll be giving it a try the next time I make pancakes. If you try it, too, let me know the results. Post a comment with the beer you used and how the pancakes tasted. Let’s build a beer pancake database.

Steve Dulas’ World’s Best Pancakes

(Photo by Mike Lucia – Tribune Staff)

The preferred beer is Olympia. Any other American beer will likely mess this up — seriously. The morning we ran out of Oly and used another brand, the pancakes were not as tasty.

1 2-pound package Krusteaz Buttermilk Pancake Mix
4 to 6 12-ounce cans Olympia beer
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease

While the grill is heating to medium, pour pancake mix into a large bowl. Add beer, one can at a time, until the batter reaches a smooth consistency. When a few drops of water dance and sizzle on the grill, it’s ready. Wipe the grill with a thin coating of oil or grease on a paper towel, then drop batter onto the grill, about a half-cup per pancake. Cook about 2 minutes, and flip each cake when the top is covered with air bubbles. Cook another minute then serve. Makes 40-50 4-inch pancakes.

Note: If you’ve got a lot of campers you might want to graduate to the 5-pound package of Krusteaz and use more beer, up to a full 12-pack.

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