Until somewhat recently, putting beer into a cocktail just never occurred to me. Growing up in sunny Sydney, beer was what you downed with abandon out of icy cans and frosty bottles. Heaven forbid it would ever find its way into a mixed drink. That would just be weird. I had dabbled with that Mexican classic, the michelada, but I never really thought of that now ubiquitous drink as a ‘cocktail’ per se.
Fast forward to 2014 and almost every craft cocktail bar I’ve been into recently has at least one beer cocktail on their menu. This makes me smile and I’m not even sure why. The first modern beer cocktail that I remember enjoying was something called a Radler, created by bartender Katie Stipe at the now-shuttered Vandaag restaurant specializing in beer and Dutch cuisine. Apparently the Dutch have their own ‘cuisine.’ But I digress.
It should be noted though that the Radler is actually a rather old beer-based beverage throughout Germany, Austria and surrounding countries where it literally translates to “the cyclist” because it was once a popular sports beverage taken after a race. Then Gatorade came along and ruined all the fun. The drink was supposedly created by a Munich astronomer around the 1920s, but nowadays it’s mostly sold as a packaged ready-to-drink beverage.
If I recall, Stipe’s version was based on aquavit and might have had some peach, pineapple or ginger thrown in the mix. It was topped, in a stroke of genius, with hefeweizen beer. It was perfectly balanced and truly a revelation. Since that day, I’ve tried to put a beer cocktail on every menu I do. They can be great low alcohol options and there are so many different styles of beer that such drinks can be seasonal and very versatile.
Try your stouts, porters, bocks, doppelbocks and the like in the winter and your pilsners, IPAs, hefeweizens or fruity Lambics in the summer. Leo Robitschek, the drinks maestro at Eleven Madison Park has a killer beer cocktail on his menu at The Nomad using Einbecker’s non-alcoholic beer to top it off. That clever touch surely doesn’t hurt his pour costs either.
Beer as an ingredient in mixed drinks, whether they were known as ‘cocktails’ or not, are certainly nothing new. During the Middle Ages (long before the word cocktail was even coined), there was posset, a mix of warm milk and spices mixed with wine or ale that was often taken as a remedy for a common cold. It was typically heated with a scalding iron rod taken straight from the fire.
Over the years I’ve also had some wonderful beer-based flips – distantly related and widely consumed in America’s Colonial period – some with rich and thick chocolate stouts; others with seasonal ales flavored with pumpkin, cherry or cranberry. Try the Sour Cherry Flip recipe below for something truly sublime. For this article, I reached out to a wide net of bartenders around the world recently to see how they were using beer and to say the recipes were varied would be a gross understatement.
There was one that I had foolishly forgotten about – Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew – somewhat of a cult hit in London, created by bartender Pete Jeary while working for the Hawksmoor Group. Now, he’s trying to market this simple yet polarizing mix of gin, lemon, honey and English ale. Even more polarizing perhaps is one of the unsung heroes of the cocktail world, the Black Velvet, a rather peculiar mix of Guinness and champagne, Yes, you read that correctly.
It would be remiss of me to write an article about beer cocktails and not mention (in more detail) that Mexican classic that is making noise all across America: the Michelada. Recipes are varied but the most common ingredients are lime juice, some version of hot sauce, Maggi sauce (not too dissimilar to Worcestershire), poured over ice in a salt-rimmed glass and topped with icy lager. For me, it’s one of the most complex, yet simple and refreshing mixed drinks you could ever enjoy on a scorching Summer’s day.
Anyway, beer cocktails are here to stay (whether you consider it sacrilege or not), so let’s all play nice. Let’s continue to use beer as a wonderful platform to create some truly sublime cocktails, no matter the time of year. Because really, there’s a place for beer-based cocktails at every bar. Here’s a list of some of the best versions from many of you fine readers of ShakeStir.
- 1 oz. Fidencio ‘Sin Humo’ mescal
- ½ oz. Pierre Ferrand dry Curacao
- 1 oz. pineapple juice
- ½ oz. yuzu juice
- ½ oz. ginger juice
- ½ oz. raspberry syrup
METHOD: Shake and strain on ice
Top with hefeweizen beer
GARNISH: 3 skewered raspberries (resting across rim)
From Naren Young – Bacchanal, New York City
Cabeza Y Cerveza
METHOD: Stir with ice and strain
Top with Victory Prima Pils
GARNISH: Half grapefruit wheel edged with sal de gusano
From Jeff Bell – PDT, New York City
Yuzu & Hops
- 1 oz. Old Overholt rye
- 1 oz. Choya Umeshu plum wine
- ¼ oz. yuzu juice
- ¼ oz. lemon juice
- 1 barspoon yuzu marmalade
- 2 dashes hop tincture
METHOD: Shake all ingredients
Strain over one Kold-Draft ice cube
Top with Barrier Ruckus IPA
GLASS: Footed Highball
GARNISH: Candied grapefruit zest
From Masahiro Urushido – Saxon + Parole, New York City
Sour Cherry Flip
- 1 oz. W.L Weller 12 Year bourbon
- ½ oz. amaretto
- ½ oz. cherry Heering
- 2 oz. Lindemans cherry Lambic ale
- 3 dashes cherry bitters
- ½ oz. agave nectar
- 1 tsp. cherry butter
- 1 whole egg
METHOD: Dry shake ingredients
Add ice & shake very very hard
Strain into glass
GLASS: Footed Sour/Fizz
GARNISH: Grated nutmeg
- 1.5 oz. Spring 44 Old Tom gin
- ½ oz. Cardamaro
- ¾ oz. lemon juice
- ½ oz. chamomile syrup
METHOD: Shake and strain over fresh ice
Top with Green Flash IPA
GARNISH: Lemon wheel
Ivy Mix – Clover Club, Brooklyn
Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew
- 35ml Beefeater
- 50ml lemon juice
- 50ml ginger syrup
METHOD: Blend with 5 ice cubes
Top with London Pride beer
GLASS: Beer mug
By Pete Jeary
Black & Blue
- ¾ oz. Absolut herbaceous lemon
- ¼ oz. pimento dram
- 1oz. lemon sherbet
- 6 oz. Founder’s porter
METHOD: Roll the cocktail until chilled and strain into a beer glass on a chunk of ice
Jack McGarry – The Dead Rabbit, New York City
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