The beer and cocktail worlds tend to orbit in separate universes, rarely meeting outside of a summer-day Shandy or hangover-inspired Michelada. But beer syrups, flavorful syrups made from beer and sugar as in simple syrup, are making a case for those worlds colliding.
Ali Adkins, the beverage director at James-Beard nominated The Stanley in Charlotte, North Carolina, agrees that beer syrups can provide a bridge between worlds. “They’re a great way to get a beer drinker to venture into the world of craft cocktails," she says.
Tart sours, hoppy IPAs and easy lagers can all be whipped into a range of syrups. “Beer syrups are great for adding a big pop of beer flavor in small doses and in drinks that you don't necessarily want to be a tall drink full of bubbles—think Daiquiris or even Old Fashioneds,” says Ivy Mix, the co-founder of Speed Rack and the co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York.
As Anthony Escalante, the bar manager at Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, says, “You’re able to utilize the very specific flavors in different styles of beers to complement a cocktail. This can really set your drinks apart in terms of complexity.”
Mix finds that beer syrups are also a great way to reduce waste. “In bars, I've liked making beer syrups from when we change a keg, and at the beginning and end, we have a little waste that’s either a little old and flat or over-bubbly,” she says. “But popping open a bottle or can works just as well.”
Pick Your Flavors
The world of beer is diverse. So which brew is best? Any and every, according to these bartenders—it’s all about personal preference.
“I enjoy using super-flavorful beers in my syrup,” says Mix, listing off IPAs, sours and tropical goses as favorites. On the other hand, Adkins prefers porters, stouts and sours. “I feel like IPAs can be a little overwhelming," she says. Her go-to recipe for a beer-based syrup calls for combining two cans of double chocolate stout with a half cup of raw sugar, a teaspoon of cherry extract and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, rendering a rich and decadent drink.
Mix’s Speed Rack co-founder and Llama Group’s beverage director Lynnette Marrero prefers IPAs but also works with sour beers and stouts when making beer syrups. In particular, she uses stout and porter syrups in Old Fashioneds, flips and drinks with egg or cream. “I usually use a dark sugar like demerara or muscovado to lean into the spice notes,” she says. For cocktails incorporating these syrups, “I tend to stay away from lemon and lime juice; instead, I lean further into the chocolate and coffee notes.” She notes that these flavors go extremely well with aged spirits such as rum, whiskey and añejo tequila.
Escalante prefers working with sour beers when making a beer syrup. “I really enjoy citric acid, probably more than any normal person should,” he says laughing. His favorite is a cucumber-rosemary sour syrup made from 10 Barrel Brewing Co.’s Cucumber Sour Crush. To make it, he combines equal parts beer and sugar, plus a rosemary sprig, heating and stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Tips from the Pros
While the syrups are relatively easy to make, there are a few things to keep in mind. Namely, says Mix, “Don't boil your syrup, just heat it enough to melt your sugar and quickly remove it from the heat.”
Escalante agrees, saying, “Much in the same way you would make any other type of syrup, the only thing you want to be sure of is that when heating the ingredients, do it over low heat and try not to over-whisk, or else the outcome may look more like an elementary school science experiment.” He recommends starting with an even one-to-one ratio. “Then begin to build your own recipe based on the outcome,” he says. “Try modifying the flavor profiles using different types of sugar or sweetening agents, or take it a step further and try using fresh fruits, vegetables or herbs. The possibilities are endless.”
Before making the syrup, Marrero recommends cracking open the beer and letting it sit for a while. “The issue with a beer syrup is you are dealing with foam and carbonation, which don’t react well to heat,” she says. “I usually open the beer and let it go flat before I work with heating it to make a syrup. Porters and stouts, and beers that are less volatile, are easier to work with.” She has also had success making the syrups via sous vide and low temperatures.
Once you master these details, the possibilities are vast. Marrero likes to use her IPA syrup in a Julep with peaches and bourbon, while her sour beer syrup adds depth to a Shandy variation. She also adds a quarter-ounce of sour beer syrup to sours using gin, vodka or aquavit. For her part, Mix loves making syrups from hazy beers, which she finds work well in a cocktail with bourbon, lemon juice and a splash of Cynar.