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Beer Velvet Cake

Beer Velvet Cake

 Beer Velvet Cake. No food dye, all win. 

Beer Velvet Cake

Let’s talk about red velvet for a second. It’s a cultural phenomenon with inspired spin offs that include vodka, candles, coffee, and a myriad of other head tilt inducing concoctions that lead me to wonder why exactly this dessert deserving of all this hype.

Sure, I’ve had my share. I’ve made countless recipes passed on by friends as "The Best" variation. I’ve talked to devotees that swear it’s the best cake they’ve ever had, requesting it for every birthday. I’ve had cupcakes, doughnuts, and even pie, but I’m always left wondering.

When the recipe leads me to the step that calls for two (yes TWO) bottles of red food coloring, I pause. It’s not so much the potentially toxic nature of the inclusion of such an ingredient, (for a rundown of why red food coloring is bad read this). As a recipe developer, I wonder if there is a reason for the addition of this ingredient that I’m possibly overlooking. Why is it called for in such a massive quantity?

Was there a reason I’m not aware of? Rumor has it that it just goes back to good 'ole fashion American capitalism. I’ve been told this is food folklore, I’ve been told it’s true, but even Food & Wine Magazine reports that the inclusion of two bottles of red food dye has been linked to a man in Texas trying to sell more red food dye.

Fact or fiction one thing is undeniable: the red food coloring does not add anything to the taste or texture of the cake and could potentially distract from it.  But what will add to the flavor and texture of your cake? Beer. Beer is a natural leavening agent that adds a fantastic, slightly lighter texture all while gifting your cake with the beautiful flavors of roasted grains.

For this cake, I used the recipe that most variations lead back to: The Waldorf Astoria Red Cake, with the traditional white roux frosting. The only substitution I made was beer for red food dye, which, I have to say, gave me the best velvet cake I’ve made.

Beer always wins.

Beer Velvet Cake-5


Beer Velvet Cake



  • 1/4 cup chocolate stout beer
  • 2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp baking soda

White Roux Frosting:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups unsalted butter softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • In a small bowl whisk together the beer, cocoa powder and vanilla until well combined.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer add the shortening and sugar, beat until well combined.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.
  • Add the beer mixture and the salt, beating until well combined.
  • Alternating between flour and buttermilk, add both a bit at a time while the mixer is at low speed. Don’t over beat.
  • In a small bowl stir together the baking soda and vinegar. Gently fold into the batter.
  • Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, between 25 and 30 minutes.
  • Allow to cool completely.
  • In a pot over medium high heat, warm the milk.
  • Gradually whisk in the flour, stirring until very thick, about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a bowl, cover and allow to rest until cooled, about 1 hour.
  • Add the softened butter to a stand mixer, beat on high until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla beating until well combined. Add in the white roux, beat until fluffy and resembles whipped cream, about 15 minutes.
  • Frost the cake adding generous amounts of frosting between layers.

Beer Velvet Cake -3



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Dave B February 16, 2015 um 12:30 pm

Red food dye is unecessary for flavor that’s for sure. That should be enough.

The link you have to why food dye is bad is full of chemophobia, misinformation, and links to Mercola, a known peddler of pseudoscience and quackery.

Just because something comes from nature, does not mean it is safe to eat. Something that has been processed also can be safe or unsafe. Chemical compounds need to be evaluated on their properties not whether they grow in a field.


Jackie February 16, 2015 um 12:56 pm

I agree, cocaine is derived from a natural ingredient and clearly it isn’t safe. But the article also talks about the strong link food dyes have to cancer, and, more importantly the fact that they add nothing positive to the food we eat.


Nico February 16, 2015 um 4:56 pm

I didn’t check out the red food dye link but at a molecular level food dyes in general look an awful lot like known carcinogens due to their large, flat, planar structures. We know from simple molecular biology techniques that there is enough room between adjacent bases in a strand of DNA to allow for large, flat, planar molecules to intercalate. For this reason I personally try to limit my exposure to molecules such as this that are potential intercalators. Intercalation can alter gene expression, potentially turning on an oncogene or off a tumor suppressor, hardly seems worth a risk when there are delicious recipes like this available and as far as I can tell no benefit to eating the dyes. Thank you Jackie.


Beth February 16, 2015 um 1:48 pm

I have seen some recipes that use beet juice. Have never tried them, and do not know if the juice would change the taste. But I’ve also seen a recipe for red food coloring using beet juice so maybe….


Jackie February 16, 2015 um 3:03 pm

I tried it in frosting once and it did give the frosting a great color but it had a VERY "earthy" flavor to it that I didn’t like.


Michael Fairfax February 16, 2015 um 4:54 pm

I have a question, specifically to this recipe but also generally to all your baking recipes – have you ever used or would you consider using truvia bakable, a blend of stevia that is supposed to work with baking in substitute of sugar.


June Burns February 17, 2015 um 1:31 am

Ah this looks much better than traditional red velvet cake! i too have always been slightly disturbed by the amount of food coloring in it…this sounds like a great alternative 🙂


Lauren @ A Nerd Cooks February 17, 2015 um 6:45 am

THANK YOU! Red velvet is such bullsh*t. Vaguely chocolatey-flavored cake with a butt ton of food coloring? No thank you.

I love this recipe. Any excuse to incorporate beer into baked goods is awesome in my book. My husband (a big stout lover) would go nuts for it.


[email protected] NY Foodgasm February 17, 2015 um 6:57 am

I am sooooo on board with this!! I always thought it was dumb that the whole reason it is red velvet cake is because it’s dyed. Beer definitely wins this and most everything!


Amy February 17, 2015 um 9:42 am

I love how moist this cake looks. Just found your site and I love it. I find your recipes using beer so interesting. I enjoy craft beer as well so I’m happy to be able to utilize it as an ingredient. Thanks!


Fran February 19, 2015 um 7:11 am

The best part about red velvet cake is the icing. It is my MIL’s specialty and my husband won’t eat anyone else’s. Her recipe does not call for very much food coloring though. I think I will make this without mentioning anything about red velvet and see what he thinks!


Meredith in sock monkey slippers February 19, 2015 um 9:18 am

All the YESES for this one and your new design! Gorgeous!


Paula – bell’alimento February 23, 2015 um 4:36 pm

Loving the new design and this cake well just oh my GAWsh gimme!


GB March 12, 2015 um 6:38 pm

Is there a reason for using beer rather than another ingredient such as milk, buttermilk or even water? Does it add anything or is it just a novel way to use beer?


Jackie March 12, 2015 um 6:47 pm

Yes. I talk about it in the post. Here is an excerpt: " Beer is a natural leavening agent that adds a fantastic, slightly lighter texture all while gifting your cake with the beautiful flavors of roasted grain"


Susan February 13, 2017 um 11:20 am

Definitely will make this for Father’s Day…how will it change the outcome if I replace butter for the vegetale shortening?


Andres September 17, 2018 um 6:44 am

Hi! I’m definitely tempted to bake it! Just one question: Which kind of beer should I use? Love your recipes as much as I love beer!


Jackie September 17, 2018 um 10:52 am

I used a stout! Porters would work well, so would a brown ale. Stay away from anything too hoppy.


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