Warm-Weather Cocktails Made with Local Beer, Spirits and Liqueurs
From mustaches that wouldn’t look out of place in a Civil War photo to a new love of latch hook, the millennial generation isn’t shy about looking to the past for inspiration today. Bars are no different, with cocktail culture that deploys 1890s techniques in tandem with modern tools and tricks making bar menus more diverse. Even beer is more in the mix (literally), influencing drinkers to dive into the recently hip world of beer cocktails—made even hipper when mixed with local beers and spirits. But is it really all that new of a trend?
Before pouring, know that you’re not just jumping on some cocktail bandwagon. “Beer cocktails predate the craft beer movement and even the modern cocktail,” explain Massachusetts-based authors Howard and Ashley Stelzer in their wonderful book Beer Cocktails: 50 Superbly Crafted Cocktails that Liven Up Your Lagers and Ales (Harvard Common Press, 2012). That’s right; our Colonial ancestors drank hot ale flips and thought nothing of mixing beer with rum and spices; and before those additions, beer was mixed with a whole host of herbs, spices, flowers and other ingredients.
Perhaps the most recognizable beer cocktail, the shandy, or shandygaff, can be traced back at least to 1853, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and has been consumed off and on since then, as people discover and rediscover its fizzy mingling of pale ale or lager with lemonade or lemon soda, ginger ale or ginger beer. You’ll still see plenty of shandies this summer, but lately, beer cocktails have become more ambitious.
What’s bringing beer cocktails back into the spotlight? First, they tend to be refreshing remedies for hot days (though there are some fitting versions for winter, too). The flavorful and creative beers, spirits and liqueurs being released by local artisan breweries and distilleries are also driving the trend. As the Stelzers write, “The unavoidable fact is that as more drinkers are seeking beer, more bartenders are exploring beer as an ingredient in their cocktails.”
This exploration is evident on local bar menus, with classic beer cocktails alongside adventuresome and quirky ones—some use beer as a base and some as a strong supporting player. Take the thirst-quenching Pondwater at Bar Sue on Capitol Hill. It starts with Earl Grey–infused bourbon, lemon juice, blackberry and sugar over ice, and then is topped with a healthy float of Trumer Pils, a hoppy, effervescent beer.
Washington state drinkers are perfectly situated to bring the beer cocktail reemergence home as well, thanks to the explosion of breweries and distilleries delivering a wide range of well-crafted ingredients that go well together. You can even concoct a beer cocktail completely from one region (see the Idle Ferry recipe). The delicious options, both those harking back in history and those with a more modern style, are nearly endless, and turn an everyday summer party into an event.
A.J.'s Five Favorite New Beer Cocktails
Delicious recipes featuring locally crafted beer, spirits and liqueurs
This close relative to the shandy and shandygaff adds a touch of SoDo-based 2bar Spirits’ 100 percent Washington wheat-based vodka to a half-and-half communing of Fremont Brewing’s tangerine-tickled summer ale and lemonade.
1 12-ounce can Fremont Brewing summer ale
9 ounces freshly made lemonade
1 1/2 ounce 2bar Spirits vodka
Lemon slice, for garnish
1. Add a good-sized handful of ice cubes to a 24-ounce chilled glass. Pour 8 ounces of the lemonade over the ice.
2. Slowly, carefully, add the can of beer to the glass.
3. Once the beer has settled a bit, add the vodka. Top it off with the last ounce of lemonade. Stir once with a mighty long spoon. Squeeze the lemon slice over the top and drop it in.
Learning to Count
A SoDo special! Two Beers is close enough to 3 Howls Distillery for this to be a true neighborhood concoction, bringing together the former’s slightly bitter and citrus-highlighted Trailhead ISA (a hybrid India session ale with a low alcohol content) and the latter’s slightly sweet and smooth White Label rum. The end result is especially good when mixed with an August Saturday.
1 1/2 ounces 3 Howls White Label rum
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes Scrappy’s orange bitters
2 1/2 ounces chilled Two Beers Trailhead ISA
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rum, juice and bitters. Shake well.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with the Trailhead. Stir very gently.
It’s easy to combine local beer and spirits when the makers are already fans of one another. I heard about Vashon Brewing Company’s (gluten-free!) cherrywood smoked porter (which has chocolate and caramel notes) from Ishan Dillon, Seattle Distilling Company’s CEO, who called it amazing. The porter’s heady quaff, with its layers of grain, chocolate, smoke and herbalness, blends nicely with the distiller’s Idle Hour whiskey, which has a kiss of honey and a bit of a kick. Note: Currently, the cherrywood smoked porter is available only on Vashon. If you can’t make it out to the island, substitute Old Schoolhouse Brewery’s Rendezvous porter.
1 1/2 ounces Vashon Island’s Idle Hour single malt whiskey
1/2 ounce Benedictine
4 ounces Vashon Brewing Company’s cherrywood smoked porter
1. Add three or four ice cubes to a highball or comparable glass. Add the whiskey and the Benedictine. Stir.
2. Carefully add the porter to the glass. Stir carefully from the bottom up.