A Beer Cocktail Primer

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In the world of drinks, there is probably no more maligned category out there than the beer cocktail. But I disagree; I don’t think beer cocktails ever aspired to be taken more seriously. And that’s the great thing about a beer cocktail: you’re not supposed to think about it too much. 

There are sort of three types of beer cocktail out there: the extinct ones that you don’t see much of any more, the standard set that you see in the wild, and the exotic bunch that you likely haven’t tried yet. This is about the ones you should know as the sophisticated drinker you are.

Modern standard beer cocktails are almost always made with one of two types of beer: light lagers, and Guinness.. Sure, older, extinct beer cocktails are made with all manner of ales, and modern cocktail bartenders are experimenting with every microbrew under the sun. But for this list, it’s just those two. Don’t ask me why.

  1. The Beginner: Beer and Fresh Juice. The English call it a Shandy, the French call it Bière Panaché, and German-speakers refer to it as a Radler, but most recipes are equal parts light beer and lemonade. Don’t make the mistake I did, assuming that it’s about making beer sweet; au contraire, mon frere, it’s about making lemonade nice and dry.

    Some Brits will use a fresh, lemony lemonade, some will use the Isle equivalent: Sprite. I stick with the former and I recommend you try it with Hitachino Nest. I further recommend you avoid anything called a Brass Monkey, no matter what my beloved Beastie Boys tell you.
  2. The Intermediate: Beer and Fermented Juice. A Snakebite is equal parts cider and lager, though some insist that it’s cider and Guinness. A Black and Tan is equal parts lager and Guinness. A Black Velvet is equal parts Guinness and Champagne. Do not try to order any of these at 99% of the bars in the world. If the establishment has Guinness on draft, carpet on the floor, and a dart board in the corner, it’s worth trying.

    I’ve always been partial to the Snakebite (the kind made with lager), but I’m just super crazy about cider. Throw a dash of crème de cassis in there and you’ve got yourself the preferred cocktail of underage drinkers all over the UK. Call it a guilty pleasure here. And if someone serves you a foul shot comprised of Yukon Jack and Rose’s Lime, maybe you’re better off making this one at home.
  3. The Advanced: Beer and Spirits. There’s the Boilermaker, which is nothing more than a shot of whiskey literally dropped into a beer. It was clearly created by someone who either hated whiskey or hated beer, and most certainly hated himself enough to want get very drunk very quickly.

    I prefer the French version, the Picon Bière. Amer Picon, a dark, bittersweet, orange liqueur is mixed with dry French lager. It’s sublime and a perfect topper to the end of a warm day. Be warned, however: the drink’s champions tend to be a little… rustic, so be leery of ordering this everywhere in Paris.
  4. Extra Credit: Beer and Umami. The first bar I ever stepped behind, a real workingman’s tavern, sold a lot of Red Beers in the morning. A pint of Olympia was $1.50 and a small can of tomato juice was an extra fifty cents. It’s better than it sounds, but still pales in comparison to the Upper Midwest tradition of a little beer in the Bloody Mary. I’ve always found a Bloody Mary to be overly thick and soupy, and as it turns out, a whole bunch of other folks did, too.

    But for me, the ultimate in beer/umami has to be the Michelada. Bonus points if you add a dash of Maggi seasoning for a little extra umami. My favorite recipe right now comes from my friend Erick Castro. The man knows his way around beer, and cocktails, so this one comes from a bona fide expert.

Do we really need more beer cocktails? Sure we do. For more advanced-level beer mixology (for lack of a better word), check out my Portland pal Jacob Grier’s book, Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer

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