When you hear the words “beer cocktail,” you may flash back to nights of excess, dropping shots of whiskey into pint glasses to chug a Boilermaker or the politically incorrect (yet irresistible nonetheless) Irish Car Bomb.
But there’s more to beer cocktails than these frat-party concoctions, and bartenders across the country are rediscovering the joys of using beer as an ingredient in mixed drinks. They’re reviving old classics, inventing new libations, and even giving the Boilermaker a craft-cocktail twist.
One of the oldest ways of mixing beer and spirits comes from, of all places, France — the Picon Bière. The drink spices up a simple lager with a dose of Picon, a bitter aperitif flavored with orange, gentian, and cinchona (yet another spirit flavored with quinine — see last month’s article for more of those). The addition of a little Picon completely transforms an otherwise boring glass of beer.
Unfortunately, Picon from France is nearly impossible to find these days, and the proof of the original product has been lowered anyway. Not to worry: There are good substitutes available in the U.S. One is Torani Amer, a replica made by the same Torani that makes the ubiquitous flavored syrups found in coffee shops everywhere. At under $15 a bottle, it’s a fantastic value.
A newer entry on the market is Gran Classico, a Swiss bitter liqueur. It’s a little pricier but wonderfully complex. The importer, Tempus Fugit Spirits, is promoting its mixture in ale “à la française,” and that’s a fantastic idea. A lager works fine here, but IPA lovers shouldn’t hesitate to substitute something a little hoppier.
Ale à la Française
¾ oz. Picon, Torani Amer, or Gran Classico
5 to 6 oz. beer
Build in a glass and serve.
Another drink in which beer really shines is the flip, a category of cocktails featuring a whole egg as an ingredient. While this may conjure up images of Paul Newman cracking a raw egg into his beer in “The Verdict,” we’re talking about something a little more refined here.
In flips, the egg is thoroughly shaken or whisked into the beverage, creating a rich, smooth, creamy texture. Made correctly, they’re absolutely delicious.
Ezra Johnson-Greenough, a beer writer with whom I collaborate on a series of beer-cocktail events called Brewing Up Cocktails, points out that one of the earliest recipes for the flip appears in Jerry Thomas’ famous Bartender’s Guide, first published in 1862. His Hot English Rum Flip called for rum, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and a quart of hot ale.
Today, most flips are served cold, with the egg being worked into the drink with a hard shake. Beer flips have shown up on beer-cocktail menus across the country, from Anvil in Houston to 15 Romolo in San Francisco.
Here is one we’ve served at Brewing Up Cocktails with the Italian bittersweet liqueur Averna. It works especially well with heavy-bodied beers like oatmeal or chocolate stout, but any rich, dark beer will do fine.
Averna Stout Flip
2 oz. Averna
1 oz. stout
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Add the Averna, the stout, and the bitters to a shaker or mixing glass. Stir in the egg to break up the yolk, then shake hard and long with ice. Strain into a wine glass, and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
Finally, no article on beer cocktails would be complete without the Boilermaker, the shot of whiskey dropped into a pint of beer. Simple, yes? But Beaker and Flask, a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, has found a way to take it one step further. Their drink menu features a rotating Boilermaker in which the whiskey is replaced by a miniature version of a classic cocktail. Customers are given a chilled shot glass of the cocktail with a pint of beer and instructed to drop the shot into the beer before drinking.
My favorite of their Boilermakers so far is the Vieux Carré, a classic New Orleans cocktail they turned into a Boilermaker to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Vieux Carré Boilermaker
1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. cognac
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 barspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Chill this mixture and divide into shot glasses. Serve with your favorite beer.
Beers offer a wide variety of flavors sought after in mixed drinks. They can be bitter, hoppy, citrusy, sweet, or even sour, and their carbonation can help lighten a cocktail. Even for non-beer lovers, beer has proven itself a versatile ingredient with a world of possibilities paired with higher-proof spirits.
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