Beer Cocktail Development

Adventuresome bartenders and mixologists seem to take pleasure in one-upping each other on including obscure or unexpected ingredients in their cocktail creations. One ingredient oft overlooked or, worse, misused, in cocktail development today is an age-old favorite tipple: beer.

For advice on the why and how of using beer as a cocktail ingredient, we turned to Stephen Beaumont, a beer expert and leader in educating bar and restaurant staff on beer. Beaumont is also the co-owner of downtown Toronto's eclectic beer cuisine restaurant and bar beerbistro, where he mixes up several beer cocktails. His fifth book, The beerbistro Cookbook (Key Porter Books), was released last month.

Beer in cocktails, says Beaumont, is nothing new — the Black and Tan is a classic combination of ale and stout — but he’s somewhat disturbed by a growing trend of bar operators looking to court beer fans by “just throwing two beers together in a glass and coming up with a neat name. There’s no rhyme or reason, and that does a disservice to the beer and the guest!” To impose some rhyme and reason on the beer cocktail drink development process, he offered the following insights.

NCB: When looking to use beer in cocktails, what should a bartender know about it as an ingredient?

Beaumont: The important thing, and often the first thing to be bypassed, is maintaining the integrity of the beer. You have to know what you’re using. Be sure to taste it. The goal of a successful beer cocktail is to use the flavors within the beer to create something equal to the beer. You’re not trying to improve the beer, just trying to change and enhance things. Like any other cocktail ingredient, make sure you’re using it in such a way so as to not defame it.

NCB: What are different types of beer cocktails?

Beaumont: There are three varieties. The first is beer blends, where one, two or three beer varieties are poured together, such as the Black and Tan. Chocolate stout and fruit beer is another example.

The second is beer blended with things that are not beer. A popular one is a Belgian white with orange juice; we call it a Mimosa Bianco at beerbistro. The Redeye combines beer with tomato juice. Beyond that, you can go into incorporating juices, spirits and other beverages, and there’s no end to potential variations. One of my signature favorites is the Green Devil: We wash a glass with Absinthe, add shot of aromatic gin and top it with Duvel. It’s 10.5 percent alcohol, but it’s unexpected and damn tasty.

The third variety involves using beer to flavor a more traditionally styled cocktail. For that, you’re using a smaller quantity of beer, perhaps 2 or 3 ounces with 1.5 ounces of spirits and bitters.

NCB: What does beer bring to a cocktail?
Beaumont: First and foremost is flavor. There is an enormous variety of flavors in the world of beer now.

Aromatics are another element, especially with American hops being used that are extraordinarily aromatic. A lot of brewers now are using herbs, fruits and even barrel aging, also.

The third element is a little counterintuitive: There’s a tremendous amount of water in beer, and water is really beneficial in a cocktail. You can use the flavors and aromas in various forms in its natural state, blend with something else and take advantage of the inherent water content. Or, go one step further and concentrate it — cook it down for a more concentrated beer taste, giving it a whole new intensity of flavors that can be used in a different way. One mixologist I know makes beer liqueurs — he boils it down, fortifies it with grain alcohol, adds sugar and there you go.

NCB: What about texture?
Beaumont: The big thing with beer is carbonation. In the first two styles of beer cocktails, it can really add to flavor and refreshment. Think about the Mimosa Bianco: It’s low alcohol, with spritzy carbonation going on and it’s refreshing with the orange juice — a great lunchtime drink. The third category, with beer in smaller quantity, is not going to have a lot of carbonation, but you still will get that factor.

NCB: Are there styles of beer that lend themselves particularly well to cocktails?
Beaumont: Ales tend to work a little better than do lagers, simply because ales have a natural fruitiness to them. I find same thing in the kitchen, which is that ales lend themselves to work with other flavors than the more austere lagers. But I have used lagers plenty of times.

Of course, the first thing to do is taste, taste, taste. Within the category of pale ales, think grapefruit bitters and American Pale Ale; blended with lime and orange juice is great, but you need to know the degree of Cascade hop because it can be lightly bitter or highly bitter like grapefruit rinds. You must taste and know what you’re working with.

NCB: What ingredients could you combine with beer that might not be as obvious?

Beaumont: It is a world-is-your-oyster situation. Obviously, richer darker ales work better with darker, richer spirits. It’s a waste of time to combine vodka with an abbey-style Belgian ale, but turn it around and add bourbon — now that’s more complementary.

I’ve been doing beer with ice cream for a long time. I like ice cream with flavorful, robust and sweet beers — Chimay Blue with chocolate. I do it as a beer float more often than blending, because of the perkiness that carbonation imparts.

One ah-ha was absinthe. I’d wanted to make a Duvel cocktail for some time, and it just popped into my head that a little bit of anise would work with the dryness and spicy aromatics. I thought of gin, then the hint of anise and said, ‘Hey, that could work!’ and the Green Devil came to be. It’s like making any other cocktail – think about the flavors, what would go well with it.

NCB: Before you sell it to the guest, you have to sell it to staff, correct?

Beaumont: Yes. Beer cocktails are fairly new here in North America. The best way to get staff support is to make the drinks and have staff taste them. They’ll say, “I never would have thought of this!” That passion will have them selling it all over the place. Also, I’d say 80 percent of places don’t have beer lists; you have to get a beer list into the guests’ hands, and get the beer cocktails on there. The guest will either say it’s neat and try it, or will say it’s an abomination and would never order it. But put it out there and start the conversation. 

NCB: Any final thoughts?

Beaumont: Yes! Move away from your typical glassware. Give the beer cocktail a new look. They are different. If you’re using shaker glasses for draft beer, put the beer cocktails in something different, which will help sell them.

Brew-licious Summer Sipper

Stephen Beaumont and the team at beerbistro in Toronto developed this refreshing Sangria as a means of serving Quelque Chose — a spiced cherry beer meant to be served mulled — during the hotter months. Beerbistro now sells more of the beer in summer than in winter!

Cherry Ale Sangria
26 ounces spiced cherry beer
1 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce brandy
3–4 slices each of orange, lemon and lime
6 ounces ginger ale
6 ounces soda water

Place a generous scoop of ice cubes into a 60-ounce pitcher. Pour in beer, Cointreau and brandy; add generous amounts of the sliced fruit and stir well, mashing up the fruit as you go. Top with ginger ale and soda water, adding more ice if necessary to fill the pitcher, and stir again. Makes 40 ounces.