Beer Cocktails: More Than Just Boilermakers
When it comes to cocktails, most people start with a base and then decide where to go from there. The choices include vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, tequila and any number of exotic spirits. The one base that is often forgotten about is beer. It’s assumed by many that beer is a stand alone beverage. The most you should do with beer is pour it into a tall glass and maybe drop a shot into it (you know, Irish Car Bombs and the like).
Using beer as a base for a mixed drink isn’t about rejecting spirits, but rather melding beer and spirits flavors together to create a unique drinking experience. Taking cocktails and adding beer as an additional ingredient changes the texture and body of the drink.
Boilermakers and other beer cocktails have been making a huge comeback in the past few years. It’s not just a combination consumed by coal miners after a twelve hour shift or rowdy frat boys. The beer cocktail is a complex, delicious drink when made properly.
What Makes Up a Great Beer Cocktail?
“I have had beer cocktails on menus in the past, and their success really depends on your market,” Maura McGuigan, Beverage director at New York’s BKB. “The same cocktail might fly over the bar in one city or neighborhood and not sell at all in another.” Like any cocktail, proper balance is always the most important factor. “When balancing the sweet/acid/strong triptych of a beer cocktail, it’s key to factor in the sweet and acidic flavors the beer you choose brings to the party.”
Beer is used for the flavor profile it brings, not just to add an extra alcohol into the mix.
“Choosing which beer to use depends on the drink, as some are more bitter or sweet than others and you need to know which one will amplify the flavor of the cocktail,” says Simon Sebbah, bar manager at New York’s Pardon My French. “In my Bloody Mary, I use a dark beer as it sweetens the drink and also counters the spiciness.” He sees a big trend of beer being used in cocktails in the US. “Their popularity is on the rise, but they weren’t quite as popular while I was bartending in Europe.”
What Makes Up a Terrible Beer Cocktail?
Too much sugary, cloying flavors will ruin any mixed drink, especially a beer cocktail. “There are great cocktails that lean to the sweet side but can be carried by other ingredients and having a stronger spirit base,” says McGuigan. “However, when a beer cocktail leans too sweet it just falls flat.”
Using cheap beer or a beer with a flavor profile that contrasts the flavor of the drink is another trap that less experienced bartenders can fall into. “The amount of beer used also changes the flavor, as too much beer can be overpowering,” says Sebbah. “The most important thing is to use beer with a good flavor profile and not to use too much.”
The combination is a perfect fit for any special occasion, especially a drink-fueled day like St. Patrick’s Day. “A shot and a beer is a pretty popular order at bars on St. Patrick’s Day, so the combination is a no-brainer,” says McGuigan.
The Lucky Lady
New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club has been home to mobsters, movie stars and New York’s elite over the decades. The club created an updated alternative to the standard beer cocktail. The Lucky Lady has one more unique ingredient besides beer: lobster stock. It’s topped with Victory Brewing Company’s Prima Pils.
- 2 oz. Victory Prima Pils
- 2 oz. Lobster Stock
- 1 ½ oz. Bootlegger Vodka
- 1 ½ oz. Tomato Juice
- ¾ oz. Lemon Juice
- ½ oz. Worcestershire Sauce
- 4 dashes Tobasco
- 5 grinds Pepper
- 5 grinds Salt
- Combine all ingredients, except beer, in a mixing glass. Add ice and shake vigorously.
- Strain over fresh ice in a Celery Salt rimmed beer glass.
- Top with Victory Prima Pils.
- Garnish with a skewer of celery, lemon, tomato and shrimp.
New York’s Il Mulino Prime is an upscale steakhouse known for high quality beef and interesting and inventive cocktails. For St. Patrick’s Day, the restaurant will offer a beer cocktail called Godfather James. The drink is made with Cutty Sark Whisky, Disaronno, Guinness and fresh mint.
- 2 oz. Cutty Sark whisky
- 1 oz. Disaronno Originale
- 1 can/bottle Guinness Extra Stout
- Sprig of fresh mint for garnish
Recipe by Elvis Djesevic
- Pour the whisky and Disaronno in a tall, ice-packed Pilsner glass and stir.
- Top with Guinness.
- Garnish with fresh mint leaf.
Originally located in the Hamptons, BKB is owned and run by father and son team Eric and Adam Miller. The duo’s original restaurant is the Bay Kitchen Bar. BKB opened last week and is already taking Manhattan’s Upper East Side by storm. With a cocktail, spirit and wine program to match Executive Chef Eric Miller’s authentic East Coast sea-to-table cuisine, their bartenders whipped up a cold weather beer cocktail called Clover Fizz, which speaks to their modern appreciation of old school ingredients like bitters, brandy and port. It also includes Pilsner Urquell from their draft, in a nod to the Czech heritage of their location at Bohemian National Hall.
- 1½ oz Vida Mezcal
- 1 oz Ruby Port
- ½ oz clove syrup
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp brandied maraschino cherries
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 bottle Pilsner Urquell
- 1 Orange peel
Recipe by Artimeo Vasquez, yields one serving
- Muddle cherries in lemon juice.
- Add mezcal, port, clove syrup and bitters.
- Shake and strain into a Collins glass.
- Top with Pilsner Urquell.
- Garnish with an orange twist.