Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beer Cocktail Bandwagon?

I've said it here before – I'm not above mixing beers, whether that's to blend away flaws in a batch of homebrew that I'm not too keen on drinking by itself, or to allow two or more beers' strengths to complement each other, or just for the hell of it.

But mostly this type of diversion takes place beneath the faucets of my kegerator. Something I have never been too heavily involved in is blending beers with non-beer liquids and substances. Yet such so-called "beer cocktails" are assuredly out there, if usually a little obscure and out of the mainstream, and mixologists have over the years crafted more than a few time-honored cocktail recipes showcasing the ordinarily solitary suds.

Maybe it's something about the time of year, or maybe it's just coincidence, but inside of the past month, at least two major publications – Esquire and The Washington Post – have picked up on the topic and turned out some great reads for the beer-cocktail-curious.

Or perhaps the timing is neither seasonal nor coincidental, but rather indicative of something more profound afoot – what else would compel the Post to pronounce, "We can declare that the beer cocktail is having its moment"?

Maybe it is, maybe not. I'm sure that I'm too far away from influential places like New York, Philadelphia and even Washington, D.C., to know just how much steam the beer-cocktail movement has built up. Nevertheless, reading about these clever and oftentimes mouth-watering concoctions – some of which I'd heard of, some I hadn't – is both fun and inspiring.

Of the cocktails Esquire and the Post highlight, I'm particularly interested in the Shandy Gaff, a blend of American Pale Ale and ginger beer; The Saint, which combines Schwarzbier with gin, elderflower liquor and Earl Gray-infused vermouth; and of course the Black Velvet, for which I conveniently happen to have both of the ingredients (champagne and Stout), the pale bubbly stuff being something I do not otherwise find myself normally drawn to.

For the time being, my forays into beer-based drinks have been limited. I've had really-delicious and not-so-good Micheladas before; I once toyed around with a holiday drink featuring rich ale, bourbon (or rum) and egg nog; and I've sampled Berliner Weisse mit schuss (with flavored syrup) – a blend familiar to many beer lovers that was mentioned in the Esquire piece.

But for us beer fanatics, it may seem a little counter-intuitive to take our favorite beers and add things like ice, mixers, liquor and other flavorings – after all, if you're like me, we drink mostly beer because we prefer it to other beverages like cocktails. So why make a cocktail out of beer? Isn't that going backwards?

Perhaps, but then again I think I like the perspective of D.C.-area bartender Rachel Sergi, who offered this sublimely self-evident nugget: "Some might say that beer on its own is better, but I say everything is better with beer."

And when you put it that way...

Beer Cocktail Recipes:
- Esquire
- Washington Post
- That's the Spirit!
- Drunk Drinks

Beer Nog Recipe

(So this isn't the most seasonally appropriate recipe, but hey – I have only so much to offer. Keep this one in mind for the winter holidays. All measurements are rough and from memory. Play around and find proportions that you like.)

10 oz. rich, malty ale*
1.5 oz. bourbon or spiced rum
4 oz. egg nog
grated nutmeg and cinnamon to taste

Serve in an earthenware mug or something similarly rustic-looking

* I used Saint Arnold Christmas Ale, which can only be found in Texas. Something rich, malty and not too hoppy should fit the bill. Dark Belgian ales could be great.
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