Cold to the touch and wet on the tongue, ice-cold beer is one of the best antidotes to hot weather. Beer cocktails, then, are a welcome upgrade from the predictable cooler full of bottles at summer barbecues.
No doubt your guests will be familiar with the shandy, typically comprising a light-bodied ale and a mixer of lemonade or citrus soda.
But beer can do better. You can do better.
Think of beer cocktails as an excuse to dabble in two things: brews and booze. And because most beers carry lower alcohol-by-volume ratings than hard alcohol, you’ll be doing your guests the favor of curbing their intake under the sun, when dehydration is riskiest.
The most basic rule of building beer cocktails? Use quality ingredients.
“It’s so simple,” says Gabriel Orta, co-founder and partner of Miami Beach’s Bar Lab cocktail consultancy, which designs drinks for the W South Beach hotel among others. “If you have good spirits and good beer, you’re going to have a good cocktail.”
From there, balance is key. Spice, citrus and sweet notes should play nice with one another or be adjusted accordingly.
“You don’t want to take the flavor [away] from the beer,” Orta says. “Use 4 to 5 ounces [of beer]. Everything else is in small doses.”
Take Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas, where the classic michelada — typically a Mexican lager with tomato juice, lime juice and spices in a salt-rimmed pint glass — is simplified to allow its beer flavor to shine.
“Most people think that the michelada will have tomato juice in it,” says Erin Lindsey, bar administrator at Hotel San Jose, “but we’re actually known for our [inclusion of] soy sauce.”
Lindsey explains that because Hotel San Jose’s michelada is based in a nutty Brazilian black beer, Xingu, playing up the nuttiness with sweet and spicy flavors is key. Along with the soy sauce are Tabasco, Worcestershire, black pepper and freshly squeezed lime juice, all of which complement the beer.
Similarly, Orta builds his beer cocktails around the flavor of the beer, rather than their peripheral ingredients. Bar Lab’s Gran Inka cocktail uses a handful of sharp additives — pisco, ginger liqueur, grapefruit bitters — but its central focus is a favorite local microbrew: Monk in the Trunk amber ale from Jupiter, Fla.
At Holland House in Nashville, Tenn., bartenders are going beyond beer and booze to incorporate a third sipping staple: coffee.
The Kelso Cola — named for the small Tennessee town that yields one of the drink’s key ingredients, Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur — combines house-made coffee cordial, spiced rum and Japanese Hitachino Espresso Stout beer for a frothy, silky cocktail likely to take the place of your after-dinner coffee.
Holland House bartender Ryan Creamer won’t give away the secret to the house-made coffee cordial, but he offered a clue as to how easily the Kelso Cola goes down.
“It’s kind of like the best root beer float you’ve ever had,” he says.
The possibilities await. Grab your jigger and a six-pack, and get started.
Note: Adapted from Hotel San Jose, Austin
2 limes, 1 halved
1 splash soy sauce
3 shakes each: Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground pepper
1 bottle dark Mexican or South American lager, such as Xingu black beer
Run 1 lime half around the lip of a 20-ounce pint glass. Pour salt evenly into a flat dish; dip glass rim into salt to cover completely. Fill glass with ¾ cup ice. Squeeze juice from second lime into glass. Add soy sauce, Tabasco and Worcestershire. Grind in 3 generous turns pepper. Slice ¼-inch circle from remaining half lime to create wheel garnish. Top with beer.
Note: Adapted from Bar Lab in Miami Beach. The Bitter Truth makes grapefruit bitters (the-bitter-truth.com).
¾ ounce hot pepper-infused pisco, see note
¼ ounce ginger liqueur, such as Domaine de Canton
1 dash grapefruit bitters
4 ounces amber ale, such as Monk in the Trunk Organic Amber Ale
Combine pisco, ginger liqueur and bitters in a mixing glass with ice; stir until glass is cold to the touch. Add chilled beer; stir 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled pilsner glass; top with more beer if necessary. Run lemon twist over rim of glass before garnishing.
Note: To infuse the pisco, add 3 to 4 slices jalapeno or serrano peppers, including seeds, to a 750 milliliter bottle of pisco; let stand at room temperature for three days. For spicier results, let stand longer.
Note: Adapted from Holland House, Nashville. For information on buying the bourbon liqueur, visit prichardsdistillery.com. The bar makes its own coffee liqueur, but will not divulge the recipe. You can sub with a commercial brand, such as Heering.
1 ½ ounce Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur
¾ ounce spiced rum
¾ ounce coffee liqueur
1 egg white
1 bottle stout beer, such as Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
Combine bourbon liqueur, rum, coffee liqueur and egg white in a shaker for a dry shake (sans ice), to froth up the egg white; shake vigorously. Add ice for a cold shake. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with 1 large ice cube; top with beer.
- Shallot-minced jumbo crab cakes with parsley and lemon wedges
- Bittersweet chocolate-and-coffee stout brownies with macadamia nuts
- From Lucy Saunders’ “Beer & Food”