Bartenders are discovering some inventive ways to use craft brews
John Schlimm admits that the idea of beer cocktails was not initially appealing.
“It sounded almost sacrilegious,” says Schlimm, author of several books and cookbooks about beer. You could say beer is in his blood. He's the great-great grandson of Peter Straub, founder of the Straub Brewery in St. Mary's Pa.
But after two years of taste-testing and tinkering with the 70 beer cocktail recipes in his “The Ultimate Beer Lover's Happy Hour” (Cumberland House, $14.99), Schlimm has changed his mind.
“It's really scrumptious,” he says.
Schlimm's original reaction may have come from memories of his great-great-great Aunt Reggie, whose favorite cocktail was a glass of Straub beer with a shot of whiskey.
But the new generation of beer cocktails is light years away from Aunt Reggie's Boilermaker that your great-grandfather quaffed after his shift ended at U.S. Steel.
Beer cocktails “are more like a mixed drink — two elements,” says Mirella Amato, the author of “Beerology” (Random House, $24.95) and certified Master Cicerone, the beer world's equivalent of the wine trade's Master Sommelier.
Beer cocktails generally contain more ingredients in smaller proportions — spirits, mixers and other flavorings that contribute aromas, flavors and carbonation, Amato says.
“It's about adding a flavor (of beer) that's not drowned not by other flavors,” says Amato, who developed nine beer cocktails for “Beerology.” “It's not cutting beer with something so you can't taste the beer.”
To test this concept, stop by Tavern 1837 inside Palazzo Ristorante in Washington, Pa., and ask Will Lenz, the barman, to serve up a Framboise Lemonade, one of the beer cocktails he has created.
Limoncello and Tuaca, a vanilla citrus liqueur, is combined with Sicilian lemon marmalade, muddled lavender and freshly pressed lemon juice, shaken with ice, then poured into a tall glass with a layer of Lindeman's Framboise Lambic floating on top.
“The Framboise tones down the tartness of the Limoncello,” Lenz says. “You forget that it's beer. It adjusts the flavor profile.”
Or, pull up a bar stool at the Sharp Edge's 922 Penn, Downtown, and try the Kentucky Sunrise created by Brett McMahan, the Sharp Edge's cellarman for all five of its locations.
It's a blend of Green Flash West Coast IPA, orange juice, agave nectar, shaken and served over ice.
“It's like a mimosa,” McMahan says. He created it for brunch customers at Sharp Edge's beer-centric restaurants who might opt for it instead of a classic Champagne-based mimosa.
The Downtown location has been known to go through 20 gallons of its beer-infused Sangria on a weekend. The cocktail combines fresh raspberries and oranges with agave nectar, the French wine appertif Lillet, Framboise and Wittekerke, a wheat beer.
Women are often the core market for beer cocktails, because they have a lighter alcohol content, are fruitier and not heavy, McMahan says.
“At your old-school beer bar, a husband and wife come in. She doesn't like beer and wants something in a mixed drink. The guy will have a beer,” he says. Given the proper description, women are open to trying a beer cocktail. “It's a stepping stone for someone to get into beer.”
Many customers tend to confine their drinking to a single category – beer or wine or mixed drink — says Adam Henry, spirits and cocktails director at The Independent Brewing Co. in Squirrel Hill.
During craft beer week in April, he devised several beer cocktails for cocktail drinkers who accompany beer enthusiasts to this bar that specializes in local craft beers.
“It's a natural fit, because we're a craft beer bar,” Henry says.
While some purists might be appalled at mixing their favorite brew, a drink named Holland Oats — a pun on the music group Hall and Oates — was popular with cocktail drinkers.
Ingredients include Dutch gin, sugar syrup made from Honey Nut Cheerios, oatmeal stout, a whole egg and a nutmeg garnish.
Henry describes it as a malty, nutty, creamy drink.
“If you describe (a cocktail) as a ‘beery eggnog' it will put people off,” he says. “The role of a waiter or bartender is to break down barriers on what to expect.”
Beach Party Punch
Whether by beach, lake or pool, kick back and enjoy this punch, which takes the best that life has to offer and translates it into each lingering sip. Balance the rum, vodka, amaretto and gin quartet with your go-to choice of pale lager, or a fruit beer or Kölsch you haven't gotten to try yet.
From “The Ultimate Beer Lover's Happy Hour.”
4 ounces rum
4 ounces vodka
4 ounces amaretto
4 ounces gin
24 ounces pale lager, fruit beer, or Kölsch
1 can (12 ounces) Sprite or ginger ale
8 ounces orange juice
8 ounces pineapple juice
Orange slices, pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries, for garnish, optional
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
The Tropical Tripel cocktail is inspired by the fruity notes in tripels. It is playfully conceived as a warm-weather vacation in a glass for those who reside in cooler climates, perhaps behind monastery walls.
1⁄4 ounce Malibu coconut-flavored rum
1⁄4 teaspoon crème de banane
1 ounce pineapple juice
3 1⁄2 ounces tripel
1⁄2 ounce spiced rum
Pineapple pieces, for garnish
Shake the Malibu, crème de banane and pineapple juice, and strain them into a 6-ounce champagne flute. Very gently, pour in the tripel. Float the spiced rum on top and garnish.
Inspired by the classic Campari-based Americano cocktail, this drink turns the tables, spicing up a classic American style of beer and taking it into traditional Italian cocktail territory.
1⁄2 ounce ruby port
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce orange juice
Dash of bitters
5 ounces American pale ale
Grapefruit twist, for garnish
Fill a 12-ounce highball glass with 1⁄2 cup crushed ice. Add the port, Campari, orange juice, bitters and beer and stir gently. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
This summery cocktail brings together the fresh flavors of cucumber and lime with herbal notes from gin and pilsner. The resulting combination of flavors takes the refreshing nature of pilsner to a whole new level.
1 1⁄2 ( 1⁄2-inch thick) slices cucumber, peeled
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon lime juice
1⁄2 ounce gin
2 1⁄2 ounces pilsner
Cucumber wheel, for garnish
Cut the cucumber slices into thin strips. Muddle the cucumber, sugar and lime juice at the bottom of an 8-ounce rocks glass. Add gin and stir. Half-fill the glass with ice. Gently pour in the pilsner and garnish with a cucumber wheel.