Beer-Flavored Sausage: Genius or Travesty?

Hillshire Farm Miller High Life Beer Brats

By: Sara Lee Corporation

I Paid: $3.99 for a 16-ounce package of six brats (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 1stars


Marketing: 1stars

The traditional way to cook bratwurst, a German sausage that’s a way of life if you live in Wisconsin, is by boiling it in beer and onions. You can eat it at that point, or throw it on the grill to finish. Hillshire Farm has attempted to make things easier by offering a brat that comes precooked and preflavored with beer—in this case Miller.

There are several problems. First off, the brats are too small; they look more like hot dogs. And they taste like a hot dog/breakfast sausage hybrid, marketed to a nation that’s never tried a real brat. I cooked them on the grill. They lacked the snap of a brat casing, the slightly irregular interior texture, and the aromatic, spicy kick (mace, nutmeg, white pepper) you can expect from a real bratwurst, instead having just a mild, homogenous pork flavor. There was no beer flavor whatsoever.

Marketed as hot dogs, these things would be an excusable oddity. As bratwursts they are little logs of shame.

Johnsonville Beer ’N Bratwurst Links

By: Johnsonville Sausage LLC

I Paid: $5.29 for a 19.76-ounce package of five brats (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 3stars

Johnsonville, a Wisconsin-based company, has a beer-and-bratwurst sausage, too. Unlike Hillshire’s offering, the Johnsonville product isn’t precooked. You can boil, broil, or grill it, which requires a bit more finesse and time than the heat-and-eat Hillshire sausage.

Also unlike its Hillshire competition, a Johnsonville Beer ’N Bratwurst Link tastes like a bratwurst. It’s got a real snap to it—more so, actually, than an original Johnsonville brat, home-boiled in beer, which I tasted it against. The interior is not a uniform fine-ground hot dog texture, but more that of a rustic sausage.

Although the Beer ’N Bratwurst Links simply list “Wisconsin beer” in their ingredients—not necessarily encouraging—the beer kick is present and pleasant, if understated.

Ironically, the product’s authenticity may hurt it in the marketplace: The kind of person who appreciates a real beer-boiled brat might be inclined to just beer-boil his own, and the kind of person who wants speed and ease might not like a product that requires grill time. If you’re the former, consider this: At least Johnsonville Beer ’N Bratwurst Links don’t require you to sacrifice a couple of brews in order to make supper.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.