The beer cocktail exists in a realm of opposites. On one side is the beer; good, honest, humble, unadorned aside from perhaps a skilful pour or shapely glassware, and all the better for it. And on the other is the cocktail, all ice, umbrellas, mint leaves and theatre.
Beer cocktails occupy the space in between. In their crudest form, they’re beer combined with a spirit or perhaps a wine, and a soft mixer. They can be inelegant and brute, such as the Leeds Festival Shakermaker – a quarter each of beer, cider, vodka and Red Bull – or a platform for mixologist meddling with expensive ingredients and fancy infusions.
Stouts have long been a popular choice for making beer cocktails. Their luxurious thickness and dark malts are a solid foundation for taking contrasting flavours, such as a fruit liquor. The Black Velvet was created in 1861, and is a stout and champagne blend – the shipbuilder and the aristocrat mingling comfortably in the glass.
For the more gung-ho, beer cocktails are merely a shortcut to inebriation – is there a drinker who hasn’t had a ropey night on the snakebite? It’s such a bad boy that it’s banned in some bars. The barman’s choice for a hangover-curing medley is to plop a spirit into your beer – the lager and coffee combo of a Caribbean Night will perk you up, or the melon liqueur in a South Wind will send your blood sugar rushing.
While they may make up the world’s most commonly supped beer cocktail, the noble shandy, pilsners and lagers are best saved for lengthening drinks rather than making flavour shakes. That said, the Mexican michelada – cerveza topped with spicy tomato and lime – is pretty much liquid sunshine. Best served with a frozen tankard and a fedora.
More complex beers open up more avenues of opportunity. Heavily hopped pale ales and IPAs have layers of aroma and taste; a squeeze of citrus cuts through the richness and the botanicals of a really good gin can bring out the complex flavour nuances of hops. Zesty and elderflowery beers work particularly well with gin, the flavours melding to provide a mutual lift. Fruit beers are better suited to more neutral spirits like vodka, while wheat beers can carry off the bitterness of vermouth or Campari.
Blending isn’t always mandatory – a Boilermaker is just an amber pale ale with a shot of bourbon or rye dropped into it. Other people may prefer to stir in fruit, herbs or spices to lift the dominant flavours of the alcohol. Or beer can provide a finishing touch – a dry lambic beer can work in place of champagne in a short bellini-style cocktail with crème de cassis and vodka.
If talk of plonking fancy stuff into your pint leaves you cold, then the world of beer mixology will have you running for the hills. Where beer cocktails seem to be headed is towards shorter drinks and more imaginative palettes of ingredients, with the experimental drinking culture of LA a prime breeding ground for innovative drinks. Specialist bars in the city rather prodigiously infuse their spirits with hops. They also reduce down, for instance, a rauchbeer to a syrup to be drizzled in a glass with such extras as egg yolk, bacon crisps and balsamic vinegar. Not convinced? What about an “Upside Down Deconstructed Umami Milkshake” of mushroom-infused bourbon ice cream with Belgian tripel reduction and coffee-infused artichoke liqueur made by a dexterous staff member of the Library Bar?
While some bars and restaurants are attempting a UK wave of beer cocktailing – Tap East, Hawksmoor and Meat Liquor in London, and Leeds stalwart North Bar leap to mind – it’s not something that perhaps sits quite as comfortably at the bar of a British boozer as on a Venice Beach veranda.
Mother always told us never to mix our drinks, and maybe she’s right this time. But in a world of craft brewing and mixology exams, might beer cocktails be a natural and healthy progression, or is tampering with good beer an abominable crime?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.