“Excuse me barman,” beckons the young lady from across the bar. “I can’t decide whether to order a beer or a cocktail. Can you suggest something for me?”
“Why don’t you enjoy both, in the same glass?” I casually suggest as I stare down bottles of Corner Creek Bourbon, Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth and Avery Brewing Company’s Rumpkin sitting on the bar.
“Excuse me?” she responds perplexed, yet curious.
“A beer cocktail,” I respond as I grin, grab my jiggers and begin mixing.
I prepared her a beer cocktail that I had been recently working on; a blend of Corner Creek Bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura Bitters stirred and served in a cocktail glass prepared with an Allspice Dram rinse. The beer cocktail was finished with a float of Avery Rumpkin, a rum barrel-aged pumpkin beer, for a great fall interpretation of a classic Manhattan Cocktail.
What is a beer cocktail?
- a blend of more than one beer
- a shot dropped into a beer
- a beer blended into a spirit-focused cocktail
- a spirit and/or modifier blended into a beer
History of the Beer Cocktail
Historically, beer cocktails are nothing new. Their exact origin is up for debate, but they have been around for centuries.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘Flip’ was first used in 1695 to describe a mixture of beer, rum, and sugar, heated with a red-hot iron. Though the recipe has since changed, this is likely one of the earliest beer cocktails found on the books.
Other early examples of beer cocktails were also available around the same time, like blended beers called Porters, as well as sour-wheat beers called Berliner Weiss that were mixed with syrups to balance tartness.
For many people, their introduction to beer cocktails was with one of many simple yet classic beer cocktails: Boiler Makers, Irish Car Bombs, Micheladas, Shandies, Beermosas, Black and Tans, and Sake Bombs. It wasn’t until recently that bartenders have taken a more serious look at beer as an ingredient in sophisticated cocktails, made with fresh seasonal ingredients and layers of flavor.
It is still difficult to know where the modern beer cocktail movement began, but beer cocktails have been on hot-spot cocktail bar menus like Alembic Bar in San Francisco, Alchemy in San Diego, and JoeDoe in New York City for some time now. There is no mistaking that the history of the beer cocktail is being written each day as more bars and bartenders embrace the possibilities of blending spirits, beer and modifiers.
My Introduction to Beer Cocktails
My experimentation with beer cocktails began when I stepped behind the bar at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen located in Denver, CO, in August 2010. It only seemed natural to blend craft spirits and craft beer in cocktails as I was working with so many great beers on tap, and had endless spirits and modifiers at my finger tips.
Through experimenting with guests, I started to understand how I could accentuate the beer’s subtlety without allowing the spirit or the beer to be overwhelmed. Before long, I was crafting beer cocktails for guests at every opportunity and introduced beer cocktails to our menu at Euclid Hall in the spring of 2011.
With the building excitement of beer cocktails in the bar industry, there have been numerous events in which I have had the pleasure of participating.
I first began competing when the Pacifica Restaurant in Aspen, CO, held a beer cocktail contest in June 2011 during the Aspen Food and Wine Festival that aimed at introducing the modern beer cocktail movement to the sophistication of oenophiles. Later that summer, StarBar in Denver, hosted the Denver Beer Cocktail Showcase to bring some of the most experienced beer cocktilians together to display unique and experimental blends of spirits and craft beer.
Most recently, I was invited to conduct a seminar on Beer Cocktails during Portland Cocktail Week, which offered me the opportunity to explain why beer cocktails have a place in the modern craft beer and cocktail bars and share a little about the history of beer cocktails. Furthermore, we looked at great examples of beer cocktails that highlight not only the craft of the bartender, but also the hard work and skill of both brewers and distillers.
Beer Cocktail: Craft or Trend?
To me, beer cocktails are both craft and trend; although, I think that it is safe to say, “All the cool kids are doing it.” Beer cocktails have appeared on bar menus across the country for over three years and are becoming ever more common.
Ultimately, time will tell if they are more craft than trend, but the question remains, what does the future hold for beer cocktails? With the resurgence of classic cocktails, the prevalence of great beer on tap, and attention to fresh ingredients behind bars, the excitement for well-made cocktails that include craft beer in unique and fun ways is at an all-time high. It is with this growing enthusiasm that today’s bartenders are poised to take the beer cocktail past just trendy and to new levels of sophistication and popularity.
Beer Cocktails to Try at Home
Here are a few of my favorite recipes to get you started crafting beer cocktails. After you’ve worked with these, create your own recipes, try them out on your friends or guests at your bar, and share here with comments on what you’ve tried and how they were received.
Combine ingredients and stir. Serve in a tulip glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of allspice on the frothy head. Averna Stout Flip
2 oz Averna Amaro
1 oz Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
1 whole egg
Combine Averna, Angostura, and egg in a shaker, add ice, and shake more than you think is enough. Double fine strain and top with Rogue Chocolate Stout. Garnish with fresh grated nutmeg. - Jacob Grier, Metrovino, Portland, OR. Siete y Siete
1 oz Siete Leguas Blanco Tequila
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz agave nectar
8 oz of Boulevard Brewing Company Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Shake Tequila, lime juice and agave nectar with ice, strain into a shot glass and serve side by side with Tank 7 in a shaker pint. Drop the shot into the beer and drink in one smooth motion. Sour Punkin
Blend beers and stir. Serve in a tulip or wine glass and garnish with freshly ground nutmeg.
Ryan Conklin is a Certified Cicerone and bartender at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen in Denver, Colorado.