Introduction: 9 Unusual Uses for Beer
Beer. You can do more than just drink it. Trap and kill pests. Marinate meat. Shampoo your hair. Prevent cancer. Build things from the cans and bottles and kegs it's packaged in.
Beer's been around since a handful of Sumerians tried to make their grain more palatable by soaking it in water and then forgetting all about it. Fermentation set in, and they stumbled upon a deliciously inebriating mash. The effect was so good the Sumerians even had a hymn to Ninkasi, beer goddess, that included the recipe. You may recall one of the racier scenes in The Epic of Gilgamesh where Enkidu is civilized by a combination of the solicitation of a prostitute and the consumption of bread and beer. Beer and civilization go hand in hand.
More recently, beer's what made early intercontinental travel possible because regular old water was often contaminated after long periods of storage. Beer, a much waterier version than what we consume today, was part of the standard rations for folks making the transatlantic crossing. In fact, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth largely because they were just about out of beer. It has fans including Plato, Wilhelm II, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and the inestimable Homer Simpson.
Now a word of warning. The Internet is frothing with myths about the amazing cure-all powers of beer: fertilize your grass, insulate your walls, soothe a tummy ache, and loosen rusty bolts. These are half-true at best. Give them a try, but please be judicious with your beer. The most usual use is often the best one, so drink it before wasting it on your nuts.
Step 1: Marinate Meat (and Possibly Prevent Cancer)
Beer makes an excellent marinade. The acid and flavoring add a wonderful flavor to the surface of meats and veggies.
Alcohol, however, denatures protein molecules and chemically "cooks" the outside of the meat. It doesn't penetrate far, so it can make what would otherwise be a perfect steak into a mushy-surfaced mess that feels like someone prechewed your steak for you. Alcohol marinades are a no-no.
Don't believe me? How about somebody with a pair of 3-star restaurants? Take it away, Thomas Keller:
"If you're marinating anything with alcohol, cook the alcohol off first. Alcohol doesn't tenderize; cooking tenderizes. Alcohol in a marinade in effect cooks the exterior of the meat, preventing the meat from fully absorbing the flavors in the marinade. Raw alcohol itself doesn't do anything good to meat. So put your wine or spirit in a pan, add your aromatics, cook off the alcohol, let it cool, and then pour it over your meat. This way you have the richness of the fruit of the wine or Cognac or whatever you're using, but you don't have the chemical reaction of 'burning' the meat with alcohol or it's harsh raw flavor." (From the French Laundry Cookbook via AmazingRibs.com)
It helps to think of marinades as a sauce. If you want some controlled protein denaturing, check out Scoochmaroo's brining Instructable. Marinades are exterior flavor, no matter what the dude at your 4th of July BBQ claims when he pours a brewski into a plastic bag full of dead animal parts and Old Bay to "tenderize" the meat.
Bonus Marinade Material:
There is a slight chance that marinating meats with beer can mitigate some of the cancer risk that comes with two common meat preparation methods: grilling and frying.
Heating meat to high temperatures creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and the juicy drips that burn and smoke stick to the meat surface as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic. For those of you who are not familiar with Professor Charles Xavier's work, mutagenic means that it fundamentally changes DNA. And you're much more likely to catch a bad case of cancer than get superhuman powers from these mutations. (Read more about the risks at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cooked-meats.)
But that's where beer comes in. Intoxicating, antioxidant beer. According to the "Inhibitory Effect of Antioxidant-Rich Marinades on the Formation of Heterocyclic Aromatic Amines in Pan-Fried Beef" study performed by Isabel Ferreira and colleagues at the University of Porto in Portugal, an antioxidant-rich marinade can reduce the formation of HCAs in meat, using red wine, beer or green tea marinades.
This was the first time a study had evaluated the effect of a beer marinade, and the results are a good start. For shorter periods of marinade, beer proved to be more efficient in reducing HCAs. Will it mitigate your cancer risk? A little. Did they burn off the alcohol? Someone with access to the full-text article should tell us in the comments.
Step 2: Trap and Kill Slugs
Slugs are incredibly destructive pests. They'll devour leaves, munch on unripe fruit, leave slime trails that contaminate food, and lay eggs that will turn into root-destroying baby slugs who will grow up before the growing season ends and start an entirely new generation of garden-destroyers. Pretty darn destructive for what is essentially a ball of mucous with a mouth.
Know your enemy:
- slugs love high-moisture environments
- slugs are attracted to rotting and fermenting plant material
- slugs feed at night (or whenever the sun won't dry them out)
- slugs hide in cracks in the soil or under garden debris
First of all, the best way to control slugs from the outset is to make your garden a poor slug habitat. Use drip lines instead of sprinklers, avoid organic mulches, and water your plants in the morning to give the moisture time to evaporate before the slugs begin feeding at night.
If it's too late and your garden is infested with slugs, you can use beer to create a slug trap.
Place a shallow dish filled with beer in your garden. Use something like a yogurt lid, or bury a jar with the lip at or just above ground level.
They'll be attracted by the fermented yeast, slime their way into the dish, then drown in the beer.
Bonus tip for catching lots of slugs:
Put a piece of wet newspaper (or a board, melon rind, anything that will maintain a moist environment) in your garden overnight. Slugs will really enjoy the damp environment. The next morning, pull up the newspaper and check for slugs. Chances are good that many will have congregated in the temporary home you created for them. What you do with them at that point is up to you. Kill them, salt them, toss them into a neighbor's garden, fake a sneeze and throw them at your children, whatever.
Bonus bonus tip:
If you don't have children or pets who might be inclined to eat it, use metaldehyde or iron phosphate. It is poisonous, so don't put it on your tomatoes. But if your garden is decorative and inedible, they're the pesticides of choice to eliminate slugs.
For lots and lots of slug information, go check out Colorado State University's Slug info page.
Step 3: Beer Conditioner & Foot Soak
Beer shampoo. Beer lotion. Beer soap. Beer masks. There are a ton of body care products based on beer. But it's not beer itself that makes the difference. Rather, it is the brewer's yeast that contains all the antioxidants and riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and vitamin B12 that benefit your hair and skin. The hops have an astringent effect, and the acidity can tighten up cuticles to give your hair some extra shine.
Though marinating your steaks with beer is not advised due to its alcohol content, marinating your body with beer is fine. Your skin is a bit better-protected than your muscles (kind of the point, as I understand it), and the alcohol content of the beer isn't high enough to noticeably dry out your skin.
Here's the real problem: you've really got to soak in the stuff to get any of these benefits. Beer on its own is pretty runny (it's a liquid!), but adding some kind of oil and a thickener should keep the suds on your head long enough to benefit from its beautifying properties.
1 egg white
1 cup beer
1 tsp. coconut oil
Whisk the yolk to a froth, add the oil and whisk some more, then mix in the beer until you've got a smooth mixture. Apply to hair and scalp, wait 2-5 minutes, and then rinse it out.
Fill a basin with warm water up to your ankles, then add a half bottle of your favorite beer and stir. Soak your feet for about 10 to 15 minutes. When you remove your feet from the mixture, towel off and lotion up. Then clip, snip, file, and paint.
Step 4: Substitute Beer for Water When Preparing Rice
Beers, particularly inexpensive American lagers, make for an interesting water substitute when preparing steamed dishes. The beer provides a nutty flavor without being boozy, and you can experiment with anything that isn't too hoppy to modify your rice flavor a bit.
For more information about rice preparation than you ever thought you'd need, check out this project by AttilaTheHungry.
Step 5: Convert Beer Cans to Aluminum Shingles
This might not be the most cost-effective means of shingling a roof, but it sure worked for robbtoberfest's chicken coop.
With some common household tools to turn the cylinders into flat shapes and to make a jig to form the aluminum sheets into shingles, you too can put shingles on a roof.
Step 6: Beer Can Chicken
A classic macho chicken dish that may not actually confer many culinary advantages, here's a recipe for preparing roast chicken with a beer inside.
The idea is that the beer evaporates into the meat, making the chicken moist and tender perhaps with a beery note to the flavor. What the folks at Amazing Ribs discovered, however, was that neither was true. The exterior heat doesn't penetrate to the center to the point that the beer gets vaporized, and the inks on the outside of the can aren't necessarily food-safe.
That said, it looks really cool and probably won't kill you.
Step 7: Convert Beer Can to Bowl or Ashtray
Turn a beer can into a work of art with some masking tape, scissors, and a bit of free time. (Bandaids or gloves might be helpful, too.)
Cut along the sides of the can to create a series of strips of aluminum. Then bend each piece down and across its neighbor to create a starburst basket pattern that's perfect for ashes.
Step 8: Make a Can Stove
A classic from 2006, this project was project of the month way back in the day.
With 2 empty beer cans (and one full one), a razor blade, a ruler, and a book, you can make a compact portable alcohol stove.
When you're schlepping your bindle across the rails, this convenient little number will help you warm up a can of beans (depending on your fuel source.)
Step 9: Make a Dixie Cup Dispenser
Dixie cups (or disposable paper cups) were once the solution for kids getting sick from drinking from a communal dish with a tin dipper.
Store yours in fratboy style with a converted tallboy. Just cut off the top, polish it up, and add dabs of silicone to the interior of the opening to catch each cup just enough so they emerge individually.
Check out the patent photo and story of their invention here.