Mixologists tap into new tastes with beer cocktails

February 23, 2011 

Something new is on tap on the bar scene as adventurous mixologists brew up beer cocktails.

"Beer as an ingredient can offer such a wide variety of flavors," said Jacob Grier, a drinks blogger who tends bar at Metrovino in Portland, Ore. "They can be sweet and malty. They can have chocolate roasty notes. It can be a great complement to a cocktail."

For most people, beer and liquor have never been more than nodding acquaintances.

Sure, maybe you've had a shot with a beer chaser, or, in more reckless moments, a boilermaker -- in which the shot glass of liquor is dropped directly into the pint of beer.

But the new trend goes far beyond that, with mixologists looking for creative new ways to blend beer and booze.

Grier was introduced to the beer cocktail after watching Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont concoct some at a cocktail event a few years ago.

Beaumont got his inspiration from northern France, where he says beer cocktails are surprisingly common. "Once I tried a couple over there, I just had to give making my own creations a shot," he said.

He sees beer cocktails falling into three categories -- beer blends; beer mixed with something else, such as juice, spirits or other flavoring ingredients; or beer used as a flavoring ingredient in a cocktail.

When mixing beers with spirits, it's important to look for harmony, such as the fruitiness of rums and most India pale ales, or the aromatics of some blonde ales and gins, Beaumont said.

Grier finds gin and herbal flavors work really well because they have the aromatics to stand up to beer.

Grier, along with Yetta Vorobik, owner of The Hop and Vine beer bar in Portland and Ezra Johnson-Greenough, who runs The New School beer blog, have organized two Brewing Up Cocktails events and have more planned.

One of his favorite recipes was the Brewer's Bramble, a twist on the bramble cocktail that used a tart beer instead of lemon juice and syrup. The drink was made with gin, blackberry liqueur and The Bruery's Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, though many sour beers would work.

One of Beaumont's creations is the Green Devil, which uses absinthe, gin and Duvel, a Belgian beer. "I'd been wanting to build a cocktail around Duvel for some time. Then, while preparing dinner one night, inspiration struck," he said.

Sheamus Feeley, executive chef of Farmstead Restaurant in the Napa Valley, has been drinking beer cocktails for a while.

He recently returned from duck hunting with friends and made Bloody Bulls -- beef stock, Bloody Mary mix and some light beer.

Some customers react with, "What's a beer cocktail?" but the concept is becoming more common, Feeley said. "We can use beer as a carrier to add complexity, depth, effervescence and a lightness that doesn't knock you down."

Grier is seeing beer cocktails pop up in more places.

"I predict it's going to be a big thing for 2011," he said.

GREEN DEVIL

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 serving

1/4 ounce absinthe

1 ounce gin

12-ounce bottle Duvel beer

Pour the absinthe into a large wine glass, swirling it around to coat the inside of the glass. Pour out any excess. Add the gin, then the Duvel.

FLORIDA SNAKEBITE

This update of the classic blend of beer and hard cider gets its name from the splash of Cointreau, which gives the drink a fine citrusy finish.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

12-ounce bottle India pale ale

12-ounce bottle hard cider

1 ounce Cointreau

Divide the beer between 2 tall serving glasses. Slowly pour half of the cider into each. Finish each with half of the Cointreau. Stir gently just to mix.

Recipes from drinks writer Stephen Beaumont

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