What can give a cocktail lift, depth and effervescence? Turns out good ol’ barley, malt and hops—or, as we like to call it, beer. Unfortunately, most of us can cite maybe one or two good beer-based concoctions, the Michelada and Shandy among them. As tasty and refreshing as those drinks may be, they’re merely the tip of the iceberg. These five hop-tails go beyond the pale with ale-infused syrups, cordials and foams.
Can't get to any of the bars serving these great beer cocktails? Try making the Beggar’s Banquet at home.
When co-owner Tim Wiggins was looking to add a crisp cereal grain note to a cocktail at Retreat Gastropub, he turned to suds. The Exit Strategy starts with Plantation 3 Stars rum, Avuá prata cachaça, Luxardo bitter bianco liqueur, pineapple, ginger and lime. To that he adds an ounce of pilsner straight into the shaker tin, whipping the drink with three ice cubes to create a foam similar to the head on a beer.
“Beer adds texture when shaken, which I think is extremely important,” says Wiggins. “Shaking sparkling ingredients may be looked down on by some, but it’s a great way to add creaminess and an egg-white-like head.”
Wiggins has also played around with flip-style cocktails, shaking three ounces of a stout with a whole egg and half an ounce of simple syrup to result in a decadent chocolate-y Eggnog-like, low-ABV libation. He has also used IPAs in beer syrups to add hoppy notes. Let’s face it, “the Boilermaker is boring,” he says.
At Whiskey Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, a year-round drink on the menu called the Beer & Loathing, with Elijah Craig bourbon, Cynar artichoke liqueur, lemon and honey, was missing something, says assistant general manager Martin Wheeler. “The drink needed to be thinned out, needed some bubbles,” he says. “I selected Wicked Weed Pernicious [IPA] because it has a clean and crisp bite, with so little malt flavor. It brightened up the drink and made it more cohesive.”
At the Denver location of Snooze, an eatery that serves breakfast and lunch, the staff does an IPA drink with gin. The Strong GPA shakes CapRock organic gin with a grapefruit IPA, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice. “We like to support our local craft breweries in the communities where we operate, [and] we’re proud to bring local craft beer purveyors into our beverage program,” says Becky Fairchild, the director of marketing and public relations. “For this drink, you get the bitterness and floral notes from the IPA combined with the sweetness and acidity from the grapefruit.”
Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., may be best known for having the largest selection of whiskey in the Western Hemisphere, but its beer program is pretty killer too. At its rooftop Tiki bar this summer, creative director of the cocktail program Andy Bixby is using Maui Brewing Co.’s bright and refreshing Pineapple Mana wheat beer in the Maña-Na Colada, along with Altos plata tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Francisco, lime, pineapple and Angostura bitters. Inside in the saloon, he pours Maui’s rich and nutty Coconut Hiwa porter in a syrup in the Island Turkey, with Wild Turkey 101 rye whiskey, Amaro Averna and Bittermens Amère Sauvage gentiane apéritif.
“Beer can provide carbonation to lift the texture and add malty sweetness to round out sharper flavors,” says Bixby. “The hops in IPAs provide bitterness that can help balance a drink.” It also lets a guest sample a brew’s flavors without committing to a whole bottle, can or pint.
A new hotel bar in Baltimore may just have the most robust beer-cocktail program in the country. At Topside, the rooftop spot at the city’s new Hotel Revival, bar manager Chelsea Gregoire really drives home the bar’s “elevated beer hall” concept by reflecting the flavors of suds in her drinks. “Breaking it down to that molecular level not only satisfied my nerd heart but has struck a chord with those who have visited us thus far,” she says. Her Outkast-inspired Two Dope Georgez, as a sour riff, uses a honey syrup infused with cascade hops, which is mixed with George Dickel rye whiskey, amaro, bianco vermouth, spiced pear and a citrus blend. “The hopped honey not only adds sweetness but the herbal notes of the hops plays well with the amaro and the fruit flavors.”
Gregoire created a cordial for The Devil Wears Prata, made with Peabody Heights Thirstay, lime, sugar and an orange-beer syrup that utilizes candied orange peels and other leftovers from the bar’s garnishes. The whole thing is stirred with Avuá prata cachaça and grapefruit bitters and garnished with dehydrated lime. “This cordial adds the depth of malt from the beer while also contributing the citrus of the lime and orange,” says Gregoire.
And the Boilermakers at Topside are no frat-boy-dunked shots. Each of Gregoire’s six selections pairs a local crew brew with either a spirit or tiny cocktail that can be mixed together or sipped separately. The Darkwing Duck Re-Runs boilermaker serve Union Craft Blackwing lager with a whiskey-cola shot made from Old Line American single-malt whiskey and a cola reduction. The Tiniest Sidecar, with VSOP cognac, dry curaçao and Shrub District lemon shrub, melds with the biscuit, orange and clove notes of the RaR Brewing Groove City hefeweizen. “I thought of the classic cocktails I loved and what beers express those flavors,” she says.