From Hot Scotchy to hoppy spritzers, there are almost endless riffs on beer cocktails. In 2012, expect more operators across the country to add beer to their mixology menus.
It’s a trend fostered by festivals, competitions and seasonal beer styles: the 2011 Aspen Food and Wine event featured a beer cocktail competition for the first time, with the winning bartender, Brian Melton of Off the Cuff Cocktails, based in Denver, CO, presenting “The AllWhiteAveryThing” made with Avery Brewing Co.’s White Rascal, CapRock Gin, orange blossom white tea, hazelnut syrup with white pepper, white grapefruit and lemon juices.
During San Diego’s Beer Week in November 2011, celebrity bartender Matt Biancaniello of Hollywood’s Library Bar, devised a series of six craft beer cocktails, paired with food samples, for “Dionicess IX,” to benefit the Real Medicine Foundation. Organized by Gev Kazanchyan, hospitality professor at California State University; with help of Dave Watrous, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Co.; and Randy Clemens, chef and author of the Sriracha Cookbook, the six-flight tasting was $65 per person.
In Denver last July, dozens of fans of craft beer cocktails gathered at the venerable Star Bar—founded in 1953—to celebrate the first CO Beer Cocktail Party, organized by Avery Brewing Co. and Peak Spirits. With ten talented bartenders competing for top beer cocktail, the libations were creative with blending, textures, even garnishes (from sour candy to BBQ Pork Belly on a skewer).
Tapping the Trend
Ezra Johnson-Greenough, founder of Brewing Up Cocktails, a consulting firm based in Portland, OR, began experimenting with beer mixology in 2010 after visiting San Francisco for its annual Beer Week celebration. The Alembic first started serving a daily beer cocktail in 2009, “and the taste really motivated me to blend beer and spirits,” recalls Johnson-Greenough. “My partner in Brewing Up Cocktails, Jacob Grier, is a bartender and knowledgeable in spirits, so we began collaborating.” In turn, Grier found inspiration at a Tales of the Cocktail seminar on beer mixology led by Canadian beer expert, Stephen Beaumont, back in 2008.
Last year, the Brewing Up Cocktails crew put on seven different events across the West Coast including one in Vancouver, B.C. In July 2011, with the help of sponsors Kona Brewing and Groupon, the partners presented the eighth installment with a summer Tiki Party theme at the original Brewing Up Cocktails’ location, Yetta Vorobik’s The Hop & Vine Bar and Beer Garden in Portland.
Virtually any beer style can be used in a beer cocktail. Johnson-Greenough says, “When I first started, I began with obvious matches,” such as Belgian lambics and fruity liqueurs and rich malty beers such as stouts with brown spirits. “But once you understand a beer’s flavors and how they play off spirits and bitters, you can mix the citrus, pine, fruit and bitter aspects of those beers with similar infusions and spirits.”
Beer also offers a textural contrast unlike other mixers. Cask ales or nitro beers such as Left Hand Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout can add a soft creamy texture. More carbonated beers such as Anchor Steam, offer crisp bubbles and snowy foam for garnish.
Beer as a Delicious, Surprisingly Delicate Ingredient
How the beer is handled can make all the difference. “Being a beer person, I don’t serve beer over ice,” says Johnson-Greenough, “but cocktails usually have ice or are shaken with ice which changes the flavor of the beer quite a bit so you need to understand that and when to shake, when to stir, when to serve over ice, etc. As far as beer-based ingredients, one of the first things I tried was using straight hop oil extract, which is incredibly potent and quite nice. Just a drop of hop oil is more than enough for a cocktail. We found just putting a single drop on the top of a Martini, or on the rim, adds a fantastic hop bouquet aroma and flavor.” Hop oils are available from homebrew supply shops, and by mail order from several vendors, such as Hopsteiner.com. Stored in aluminum or glass bottles, hop oils stay fresh for one year post production.
Reducing beers down to syrups is another option for mixologists, but heating the beer can sometimes makes it very bitter. Gentle reduction, using a slow cooker or very low heat, will best concentrate the beer without scorching its hops. Some operators use the reduction to amplify the flavors of a complementary liqueur, such as syrup made with cherry lambic beer, blended with kirschwasser or almond orgeat.
In Milwaukee, Burnhearts bartender Katie Rose makes “The Fall of Nero,” a reduction of Goose Island’s Pepe Nero, a dark saison ale brewed with black peppercorns, adds maple syrup and muddled fresh thyme, spiked with Calvados to match the beer’s spicy finish, priced at $6.50 for six ounces. Burnhearts, a cozy corner bar with 16 beer lines and almost 100 brands in bottles, offers low-key retro games (shuffleboard anyone?), with 80 seats, and an expanding seasonal list of beer cocktails, priced from $5 to $11.
At the 269-room, twelve-story Ace Hotel in N.Y., April Bloomfield’s pub, The Breslin, offers interpretations of classic beer cocktails. The Breslin’s version of the Michelada is dubbed ‘Bitches Brew’ after the Miles Davis classic—as well as original creations such as the Beggars Banquet, a blend of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, lemon juice and maple syrup, finished with Old Speckled Hen Ale from Greene King/MoorlandBrewery in the U.K. Priced at $13 each and served in the 50-seat bar, the beer cocktails are solid performers, says bartender Katipai Richardson-Wilson. “About 20 percent of the overall cocktail sales are from the beer cocktails, which says that it’s more widely accepted, both by women and men.”
Also in New York, the Vandaag restaurant and bar features several seasonal beer cocktails, including the Vandaag, a blend of Bols Genever with a syrup made from saison ale, bitters, kirschwasser and a touch of absinthe, priced at $13. Made from distilled rye, corn and wheat, genever is infused with botanicals such as juniper berries, anise seed and hops, a natural match for the saison’s herbal hops profile. Vandaag, dubbed a “bierrestaurantbakery,” offers fresh-baked Scandinavian breads and pastries, Dutch spirits and Nordic cuisine. Martin Smith-Mattsson, beverage director, presents a $13 drink, the Dutch Medicine Cocktail made with genever, Scotch, ginger syrup, lemon juice and honey syrup—with rauchbier floated atop—named in homage to the traditional Penicillin Cocktail.
Temperature too plays a role in presentation. Hot beer can be the base for a real Wassail or toddy-like concoction. Portland’s Jacob Grier created a Hot Scotchy for the Hop & Vine, a toddy prepared with hot wort, the result of cooking cracked barley malt in hot water, and straining the sweet grainy mash to separate the spent grain from the wort (hot liquid). Grier then blends the fresh, hot wort with a touch of cream and dram of Talisker, for a malty, warming drink that is both comforting and chest-thumping ($7). The Wassail, a hot cocktail featuring Deschutes Brewery’s Jubelale Winter Ale, is steeped with roasted apples, rye whiskey, sherry and spices.
Inspiration for mixing a beer cocktail can be found in changing seasons, such as the wintery Wassail, special events, or even history.
At Bryant’s Lounge in Milwaukee, the iconic 73-year old bar features more then 450 cocktails-but just one uses craft beer. The anniversary of an historic British beer flood inspired bartender Katie Rose to create “The Last Call to Porter,” a blend of Knob Creek Bourbon, green chartreuse and Benedictine, finished with a splash of Central Waters Brewing Co.’s Mud Puppy Porter Ale, sold at $8 (and featured on NPR in 2010).
Other drivers to the beer cocktail are the many breweries also turning to distilling, led by Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco and its spirits division established in 1993, featuring Old Potrero Whiskey and Junipero Gin. Oregon’s Rogue opened its spirits division in 2003, with small-batch rums, pink gin, spruce gin and whiskies; and since then, each of its 15 brewpubs have featured a monthly beer cocktail.
Sebbie Buhler, the muse behind Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout, says, “There are many ways to create fun beer cocktails, but I wanted to take it to the next level and make my own signature blend for Valentines Day.” She mixed an ounce of Rogue Hazelnut Rum, with a half-ounce sherry and six ounces of Chocolate Stout: a sweet treat for any Rogue who goes nutty for beer cocktails with flavor and style.