(Cover photo courtesy of The Kitchn - Spectrum of Beer Cocktails)
I have been working on this piece for a while now and now is a great time as we venture into the heart of summer.
As bartenders search for the next big thing, it was only a matter of time before beer found its way into cocktails. Jacob Grier, author of “Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer” noticed the trend early on in the Pacific Northwest. “Mixing beer seems like an obvious idea,” he notes, but it can easily go awry – beer doesn’t always play well with other ingredients, and “beer cocktails” often end up as less than the sum of its parts.”
As he explains, “A poorly conceived beer cocktail makes for an unpleasant drinking experience, but used the right way, beer deserves a prominent place in the bartender’s arsenal. Beer cocktails can be great, however, if mixed with care.”
With craft beer booming, you have a plethora of flavors and textures to choose from. Choose a beer that has the flavor to stand up to other ingredients while having versatility. A porter or stout works best with dark spirits, such as whiskey, dark rum, and brandy. Gin and floral spirits are balanced by aromatic beers, such as Saisons or floral/citrusy beers. Avoid vodka as it tends to get lost in the beer.
Not every cocktail needs the same amount of beer. Is the drink beer focused or spirit driven? In more spirit-forward cocktails, just a little bit or an ounce of a flavorful beer may be needed. In some tall, fizzy drinks made with crisp lagers, beer may be the biggest ingredient by volume. It is there to provide neutrality on which the other ingredients can come through.
Instead of just topping off a drink with a beer, try using it as the main ingredient. Giving it a shake in a shaken cocktail can provide a cool frothy head. The bitter, floral notes of a hoppy IPA or seasonal beer can play well with the light rum, citrus, and syrup of a tiki or tropical cocktail, like a Mai Tai, adding some complexity and texture.
Try incorporating some of the beer cocktails listed below or in your favorite summer concoction. For those who love beer and a good cocktail, you can’t go wrong here. A good rule of thumb is use light, citrusy beers in light, citrusy-type cocktails and heavy, malty, stout beers in your whiskey or dark rum cocktails. The tartness of the deeply malty stout matches perfectly with the lime, ginger and rum in a Dark & Stormy or buy a spicy alcoholic ginger beer. A pilsner like Troegs Summer Pilsner or tripel-style beer mixes well with the gin and citrus/sour-forward Tom Collins. Avoid hop-heavy IPAs, which tend to take over any recipe. Instead, using Belgian ales, whose acidic, fruity and often funky notes play much better with spirits. Heavily-hopped IPA usually comes loaded with lots of different flavor notes, most typically citrus, herbal, floral or bitter.
Lager is a safe bet as it’s fairly neutral and has the kind of sprightly tingle that gives a long cocktail a boost. If you really want to keep things simple, go for a shandy – it is a blended beer drink after all. Start using a 50:50 ratio, blending your lager with cloudy lemonade, a combination of citrus juice and soda or blood orange.
There's no hard and fast rule here, so identify the strongest characteristic and match it with spirits accordingly – a citrusy IPA would work well with a lemon or orange-tinged spirit, while something herbal may work with a botanical gin. Treat hazy wheat beer in much the same way – it’s not hopped like IPA, but its flavor comes from aromatics, and you'll usually find it tastes bitter, smoky, herby and lemony, so create your cocktail recipe accordingly.
(Photo courtesy of Liquor.com)
Add a light Mexican beer to get a super-refreshing Margarita.
- Salt (optional)
- 2 oz Tequila
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- 1/2 oz Lime juice
- 4 oz Chilled Modelo Especial Beer or Pacifico
- Garnish Lime wheel
Prep - If desired, coat the rim of a highball glass with salt, fill with ice and set aside. Add the tequila, Cointreau and lime juice to a shaker and fill with fresh ice. Shake, and strain into the prepared glass. Top with chilled beer and garnish with a lime wheel.
(Photo courtesy of Hungry Again)
The classic Mexican Michelada recipe kicks up the flavor of a cold beer and mirrors a Bloody Maria (tequila-based Bloody Mary).
- Salt (optional)
- Cayenne pepper
- ½ oz Lime juice
- 2 drops Tabasco Sauce
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch Ground black pepper
- 1 pinch Celery salt
- Chilled Mexican lager beer, such as Tecate
- Garnish Lime wedge
Prep - Rub the lime wedge along half the rim of the pint glass and dip into a mix of equal parts salt and Cayenne pepper. Add the remaining ingredients except the beer. Fill with chilled beer and garnish with a fresh lime wedge.
Campari IPA Spritzer
(Photo courtesy of The Kitchn)
- 1.5 oz Campari
- 1/2 bottle (6 ounces) Chilled IPA beer
- Orange Peel
- Splash of blood sparkling orange juice or sparkling o.j.
Prep - Fill a glass with ice. Add Campari. Slowly pour in the chilled beer. Add a splash of sparkling blood orange juice, such as San Pellegrino sparkling blood orange, and rub a piece of orange peel around the rim of the glass before dropping into the drink.
(Photo courtesy of Garden & Gun)
Take on the classic French 75.
- 6 oz Chilled India Pale Ale (IPA)
- 2 oz Four Roses Bourbon
- ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz Demerara syrup or simple syrup
- Lemon twist
Prep - Pour the chilled beer into a chilled collins glass. In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, lemon juice, and demerara syrup with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain the bourbon mixture into the beer and garnish with a lemon twist.
Smoky Mezcal Shandy
(Photo courtesy of Cali Zona)
- 1 oz Vida Mezcal or your favorite brand
- ¾ oz Lemon Juice
- ¾ oz Simple Syrup
- Dash Orange Bitters
- 2 oz Chilled Pilsner beer
- Salt (optional)
- Lemon Wedge
Prep - Add the Mezcal, lemon juice, syrup, and bitters to a mixing tin. Add ice and shake for 8 seconds. Pour over prepared highball with a salted rim and top with your favorite pilsner or really any light beer.