When you think of using beer in cocktails, the boilermaker is usually the first thing that comes to mind—not the most enticing or glamorous libation. But there’s a whole host of delicious drinks to be mixed with beer, as the session “Beer & Spirits: How Opposites Really Do Attract” at the Boston Cocktail Summit last week recently proved.
Presenters Troy Clarke, director of food and beverage for the Royal Sonesta hotel in Cambridge, MA, and John Gertsen, general manager of Boston restaurant Drink, offered up several beer cocktails mixed with either hard cider, stout or IPA. (The beer had been furnished by the Boston Beer Company.)
For instance, the Normandy was created with a chilled shot of apple brandy (they used Laird’s Bonded) poured over a demerara sugar cube that had been soaked in whiskey-barrel-aged bitters. The glass is then filled with cider. The result is a refreshing and sophisticated take on cider, which on its own has not been that popular in the U.S., though interest has been picking up.
“There’s so much more you can do with cider to enhance the experience for friends and guests,” Clarke said. And as a restaurant or bar operator, you can sell more cider by using it in cocktails.
The same goes for stout, given that not many people are ordering stouts by the dozen, Clarke said. “A stout cocktail is a great way to move stout.” Clarke and Gertsen offered up a new take on the popular drink Dark & Stormy, which instead of Gosling’s dark rum and ginger beer calls for stout, house-made ginger beer and a blend of rums (they used El Dorado 15-year-old and Mt. Gay Extra Old).
The current trend of aging beer is a good way to get flavors to marry, Gertsen said. Producers are using large oak barrels to age and flavor beer.” Barrels are readily available, plus many producers are now doing smaller barrels, so you can even experiment with aging at home, he said.
Beer cocktails aren’t just about selling more beer, however. They can also help introduce guests to other spirits to improve sales. For instance, when Clarke was recently adding mezcal to the beverage program at the Royal Sonesta, he knew that some people are leery of the spirit. “I wanted a way to take away the bad experience and tone down the offensive flavor” for folks not used to mezcal’s profile, he said.
A beer cocktail called the Winter Vacation was a good solution. The drink is made with IPA, mezcal (they used Scorpion Reposado), blood orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar, topped off with Hellfire Shrub bitters. Clarke actually developed the cocktail for a specific bar guest who didn’t drink mezcal or IPA, “because I wanted to bridge the gap and show him what he was missing.” (Here’s the full recipe for the Winter Vacation.)
When developing your own beer cocktails, both Clarke and Gertsen said the beer should drive the recipe. “I’ll look at the beer first and then see what I have on the back bar and what would work together,” Clarke said. For example, maybe there’s a vodka that’s not selling—you might think about how that brand could be combined with beer to create a tempting cocktail.
The beauty of mixing beer in cocktails is taking similar flavors that blend together nicely, Clarke said. It’s also a plus that beer is not as strong as spirits, so beer cocktails don’t pack as much punch as some mixed drinks. That means guests can typically enjoy more than one without impairment. This is key, Gertsen said, since the role of the mixologist is “to enlighten, not intoxicate.”