Beer cocktails, hoptails, shandies… call ‘em what you like, but they’re on the rise, as more bartenders discover beer’s mixing potential. Clinton Cawood lets a panel loose behind the bar with some amber nectar
HOW IT WORKS
We called in a selection of beers from around the world, all available in the UK, and covering the most common styles. We put these in front of a team of bartenders who did what they do best. The resulting cocktails highlight the mixing potential of each style of beer. Prices are ex-VAT trade unless specified.
With the craft beer revolution continuing apace, and bartenders always on the lookout for new and interesting cocktail ingredients, it was inevitable that these two worlds would eventually collide. Of course, the beer and cocktail worlds are not complete strangers, with tried and tested combinations such as the Lagerita, Michelada and Picon Bière already out there. But there’s so much more potential in this combination, thanks to an increasingly interesting array of beers available, and so many cocktail styles to explore.
So we called in a dozen beers representing a broad range of flavours, spanning old favourites as well as new trendsetters, and hailing from all over the world. Then we let a team of bartenders run wild with them behind the bar at London Cocktail Club. The drinks that were created ranged from Michelada-style classics to long, fruity numbers; there were also contemporary smoked cocktails, and even some stirred-down after-dinner serves.
We hope that the recipes will provide a spark or two of inspiration for getting some of your own bar’s beers into the mix.
Chuck Bailey, PimpShuei; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Alejandro Garin, Original Sin; Jess Hellicar, London Cocktail Club; Fredi Viaud, Charlotte’s W5; Aaron Wall, London Cocktail Club
Abita Purple Haze, US
This classic Louisiana lager is brewed with raspberries to create a fruit beer, which definitely showed on the nose. On the palate, the fruitiness was restrained, not adding too much sweetness, and keeping the beer vibrant and fresh. A good option for summery, fruit-based cocktails, our panel thought.
Fredi Viaud of Charlotte’s W5 thought the beer had enough fruit in it already, and chose to mix it with nothing more than a measure of tequila and homemade almond syrup. And he was right – Purple Haze had plenty of acidity to balance the drink. In addition, the syrup brought some excellent toasted nuttiness into play, creating a drink that was described as ‘seasonal and refreshing’.
4.75% abv, £2.59 RRP, Instil Drinks Co, 020 7449 1685
Blanche de Namur, Belgium
This was a light and approachable witbier, with tea notes, some Indian spices such as cardamom, and some fruity apple and blueberry flavours too. That delicate flavour profile meant that this would work well to lengthen cocktails or punches, rather than added in small quantities in short drinks. The Fish House Punch was one such suggestion.
Original Sin’s Alejandro Garin chose to highlight some of that spice by introducing gin, St-Germain and Bénédictine, as well as some lime juice and vanilla sugar, topped with the Blanche de Namur. This had the effect of enhancing the beer’s innate characteristics, for a complex yet refreshing drink, ideal for sipping
on a warm evening.
4.5% abv, £1.89 RRP, Instil Drinks Co, 020 7449 1685
Brooklyn American Ale, US
While some tasters picked up sour cherry and tart pineapple notes on this pale ale, a number of our panellists commented on the clean, light flavour profile, with a touch of honey and a decent amount of citrus. A good, refreshing palate cleanser, but not a hit with our panel when it came to mixing.
One suggestion was to enhance those fruit notes in a Mary Pickford. But PimpShuei’s Chuck Bailey chose to treat this as a canvas to create the only Michelada of the day. ‘This is one for people to use up all their old spices,’ he commented, while adding a lengthy list of herbs, spices and condiments, cardamom and honey syrup, lemon juice, bitters and tomato juice. To keep with the American theme, and add some weight, he used Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Bourbon. Just what every summer afternoon needs.
4.5% abv, £15.20/12x355ml, James Clay, 01422 377560
Dos Equis, Mexico
There was a distinct grainy, maize-like note on this Mexican lager, with some orange blossom notes and a touch of sweetness, but, ultimately, a crisp and easy palate. Given both its country of origin and flavour profile, this was an obvious choice for a Michelada-style drink, capable of carrying lime and chilli flavours without interfering too much.
Sticking with the Mexican theme, Viaud used this instead in a very effective beery twist on a Paloma, introducing some grapefruit syrup and tequila. Bailey backed this, describing a sharing beer Paloma at PimpShuei that combines dehydrated plums, tequila, lime, Ting and Tsingtao.
4.2% abv, £1.01/33cl, Amathus Drinks, 020 8951 9840
Fix Hellas Dark, Greece
This dark dunkel from Greece was full of dark chocolate and toasted bitter flavours, as well as a slight smokiness, with some deep, dark fruit notes present in the background.
Garin predicted that this would play nicely with scotch, but rather settled on a stirred-down drink, combining it with Frangelico, Tia Maria and Grand Marnier, emphasising that chocolate note in the beer, and creating a comforting digestif that had a distinctive Terry’s Chocolate Orange flavour to it.
Bailey, meanwhile, thought that the richness of this beer would serve it well in short drinks, specifically in after-dinner serves. So he made a Flip.
The Fix Hellas Flip highlighted some of that smokiness with a touch of Ardbeg, played on the sweet fruitiness with a measure of port, and added some spiciness with Antica Formula. Bailey thought the resulting drink was perhaps a bit watery, and that reducing the beer would help with this.
5.2% abv, £1.13/33cl, Amathus Drinks, 020 8951 9840
Goose Island India Pale Ale, US
This craft beer classic was showing off some rather big hoppy notes, quite a lot of ripe citrus fruit, and a good grainy character too. In spite of this, the palate was really clean and fresh – so it had all the makings of a good cocktail ingredient.
This flavour profile inspired Garin to use it in a twist on the Sidecar, combining it with cognac, lemon juice, Cointreau and Maraschino Liqueur, finished with an orange twist. It was this final element that really brought the drink together, picking out the orange notes in the beer.
5.9% abv, £1.75 RRP, AB InBev, 0870 606 8008
Guinness Draught, Ireland
A beer that needs no introduction, and that isn’t new to being mixed with other ingredients, even if this hasn’t always resulted in the most sophisticated of cocktails. This stout offered our panellists an array of flavours to play with, from bitter coffee and chocolate to malted barley and vanilla.
Given his Irish heritage, London Cocktail Club’s Aaron Wall wasted no time in getting this beer into a cocktail shaker. His drink, Wilde Porter, combined Guinness with Jameson Irish Whiskey, crème de cacao, lime juice, cardamom syrup, Angostura Bitters, egg white and Lillet Blanc, served in a small tankard.
Of course, this beer isn’t lacking in flavour, and so it easily stood up to this long list of ingredients. ‘There might actually be a bit too much Guinness in this cocktail, which is a hard thing for me to say,’ Wall commented.
4.1% abv, POA, Diageo, 020 8978 6000
Hitachino Nest Saison Du Japon, Japan
A hit with our tasters, this saison had a great savoury, umami note – like soy sauce and rice vinegar – joining wheat and some zesty fruit. The panel thought that this delicate beer shouldn’t be paired with strong ingredients, and would work in drinks that enhanced its savoury characters.
Wall kept this in mind when he created his Chinos in Saison with a 50ml measure of the beer, then combining savoury elements such as basil liqueur and balsamic vinegar with Chambord, apple juice and egg white. To further enhance the savoury note, he garnished it with black pepper.
‘At first, without the beer, the flavours here are very full on, but the beer works to really level those flavours out,’ he explained.
5% abv, £37.50/24x33cl, James Clay, 01422 377560
La Trappe Tripel, Netherlands
This had everything you’d expect from a Trappist beer – a honeyed, spicy, fruity flavour profile, with lots of substance and richness, and no small amount of sweetness too. Any cocktail made with La Trappe Tripel would need to be able to accommodate the beer’s big orange, banana and passion fruit flavours. Bailey suggested that using egg white would enhance its creamy mouthfeel.
Wall kept things simple, combining 60ml of the beer with ginger syrup, lemon juice and Monkey Shoulder. He rolled this drink, apparently ‘to simultaneously chill it and take out some of the effervescence’. The spiciness and sweetness in both the ginger and the Monkey Shoulder interacted well with the beer, while the lemon juice brought some much-needed lift to the flavour profile.
8% abv, £47.10/24x33cl, James Clay, 01422 377560
Moor Nor’Hop, England
When Moor Beer Company created this golden ale, they also created a truly excellent cocktail ingredient – zesty and hoppy, with grapefruit notes and good acidity, not to mention some noticeable hoppiness on the finish. This was one for fresh and summery cocktails.
In his drink, which was called 500 Miles, Garin chose to enhance the beer’s fresh citrus flavours by adding grapefruit and lemon juice, as well as lemon curd, while adding body to it with both scotch and Drambuie.
For Wall, this was a chance to create a refreshing low-abv drink, with the beer at the fore. He mixed 75ml of the beer with celery bitters, lime juice and apple juice, garnished not only with fresh thyme, but with smoked thyme and oak. The resulting drink was decidedly Asian in character, and immensely complex yet very drinkable. ‘This could be dangerously pitchered,’ commented Jess Hellicar from London Cocktail Club.
4.1% abv, £35.50/24x33cl, James Clay, 01422 377560
Mr Lyan Lager, Scotland
Made by Old Worthy Brewing Co in Scotland, this passion fruit pale ale was created to be served alongside Mr Lyan Bourbon. But how does it work in a cocktail? On its own, the passion fruit was evident on the nose, along with noticeable hops. The fruit was dialled back on the palate, replaced by some acidity and even more hops.
Wall used a healthy 75ml measure of Mr Lyan Lager in his drink – a twist, he explained, on an old LAB drink. The excellently named That’s Not a Lyan, It’s a Giraffe combined tequila, pineapple juice, honey syrup, mint leaves and Chambord, for a tall, refreshing, fruity drink that benefitted from the passion fruit notes in the beer.
Hellicar made a Paloma and Mai Tai-influenced drink with 30ml of the beer, grapefruit juice, Cointreau, orgeat, QuiQuiRiQui Mezcal and Campari. The passion fruit notes in the beer were complemented by the mezcal. The addition of more Mr Lyan transformed the drink, bringing more fruit to the fore, and dialling back the orgeat.
4.7% abv, Price TBC. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original, Germany
This earthy, spicy hefeweizen was packed with flavour – from grapefruit aromas to a nutty caramel-and-honey note on the palate – a bit like breakfast cereal – and finishing up with some bright, spicy coriander seed. This could stand up to full-flavoured spirits such as bourbon, our panel thought.
Viaud didn’t hold back with the bold ingredients, combining Montenegro Bitter, Antica Formula and bourbon, topped with Schneider Weiss. The result wasn’t unlike a Picon Bière. And, as expected, this characterful beer had
the complexity and flavour to stand out in the finished drink.
Wall, on the other hand, elected to play up that breakfast cereal note with his Crunchy Nut Weiss, a playful White Russian twist that used honey syrup, Sailor Jerry, Tia Maria and almond milk, with just 50ml of the beer, which proved to be very complementary.
5.4% abv, £20.10/12x50cl, James Clay, 01422 377560
- The flavour profiles available in the world of beer are vast, and it’s important to remember that there are many ways to use these in a cocktail. While some beer cocktail classics, such as the Michelada, use relatively neutral lager as a carrier for citrus and spice, other beers are better used in cocktails as an accent, or even reduced down and used as a syrup.
- Making beer syrups for use in cocktails is also one way to address the issue of wastage, which is a real concern when using small measures in beer cocktails.
- Our panellists used these beers in almost every conceivable style of drink, from long and fruity summer cocktails, to stirred-down digestifs, and everything in between.
- Remember to account for acidity when using beer in cocktails – many of the beers in this tasting had more acidity than tasters were expecting, and so less citrus fruit was necessary when balancing their final mixed drinks.
- There are many strategies to deal with the carbonation in beer when mixing with it. Most of our panellists topped up a finished drink with the beer, while those using smaller amounts could include this in the shaker. Rolling the cocktail could help with this, too.
Alejandro Garin, Original Sin
Garnish: Lemon twist
Method: Shake and strain over ice.
15ml lemon juice
10ml honey syrup
1bsp lemon curd
2 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters
Topped with Moor Nor’Hop
Nor Moor Thyme
Aaron Wall, London Cocktail Club
Garnish: Thyme, smoked thyme and oak wood
Method: Shake and strain.
75ml Moor Nor’Hop
50ml apple juice
20ml lime juice
3 dashes celery bitters
Jess Hellicar, London Cocktail Club
Glass: Wine glass
Garnish: Grapefruit twist
Method: Shake with cubed ice and serve straight up in a wine glass.
30ml Mr Lyan Lager
25ml grapefruit juice
20ml QuiQuiRiQui Mezcal
London – Montenegro
Fredi Viaud, Charlotte’s W5
Garnish: Lemon wheel
Method: Build in glass.
25ml Montenegro Bitter
25ml Antica Formula
Top with Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original
Fix Hellas Flip
Chuck Bailey, PimpShuei
Method: Dry shake, then shake with ice and strain into coupe.
75ml Fix Hellas Dark (flat, or a reduction)
10ml Antica Formula
10ml vanilla syrup
1 dash Ardbeg 10yo
Chuck Bailey, PimpShuei
‘It’s good to see such variety in the beer world. You’ve got spice in some, fruit in others, and citrus notes too, all of which trigger ideas for cocktails. In some cases you could use beer in place of three other ingredients. With the summer coming up, you could also make big-serve beer punches, creating that sharing camaraderie between friends.’
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘Panellists went beyond traditional beer cocktails in this tasting, exploring the beer category’s broad array of flavours. The best drinks today were the ones that focused on one or two dominant characteristics of the beer and emphasised and complemented them in the cocktail. There’s so much potential when you start thinking of beer as a cocktail ingredient.’
Alejandro Garin, Original Sin
‘Beer is a useful cocktail ingredient, but you have to be careful to balance the drink. For both of mine I added the beer at the end, and it added some sourness. I like making cocktails with IPAs, as they contribute citrus notes. In the bar we reduce Guinness to make a syrup for cocktails, and we make a cider syrup too.’
Jess Hellicar, London Cocktail Club
‘People see lager as a stand-alone drink, but it’s so versatile – you can work with those citrus and grain notes. On the other hand, some of the beers here were quite fruity and full, and when you mix them they bring a whole new flavour palate.’
Fredi Viaud, Charlotte’s W5
‘When making drinks today I tried to keep things simple, using just three or four ingredients. I brought a homemade almond syrup with me that I thought would work with ale-style beers, and a pink grapefruit syrup for making drinks with sour beers. In fact, I was quite surprised at how much acidity some of the beers had already.’
Aaron Wall, London Cocktail Club
‘It’s really good for both the cocktail and beer categories to bring them together. When making cocktails, beer can help to bridge a gap, flavour-wise. Cocktails sometimes lack texture, and this is something beer can bring to the table. On a practical note, it would be great if a beer company could produce a beer that we could reseal – you’re only using 75ml or 100ml max.’