There are beer drinkers, and then there are cocktail drinkers. People usually find themselves squarely in one of the two camps and stick to it. It’s why Brock Schulte, bartender director at the swanky Monarch Cocktail Bar and Lounge in Kansas City likes to make beer cocktails. “For us, it’s more like a gateway for people into cocktails,” he says. “It’s melding what they already know with something they don’t.” But even if you’re not a cocktail novice, beer can make your mixed drinks more interesting.
Beer cocktails are actually nothing new. In the 1882 edition of Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the British Shandy Gaff (what we call a Shandy today) was a combination of ale and ginger ale. Another popular beer concoction, the Michelada has Mexican roots and is a tart blend of light Mexican beer, lime juice, hot sauce, and tajin (a chili-lime-salt mixture).
Today, you’ll find bartenders getting even more creative with beer cocktails. Rather than a simple mixture of beer and lemonade, they’re using interesting juices or pairing beers with spirits and other ingredients that allow the beer’s citrusy (or possibly hoppy) notes to shine. For example, stylish gastropub Euclid Hall in Denver has the Troll Toll, a rich blend of mezcal, rye, piloncillo syrup, chocolate bitters, and porter beer. It’s smoky and made velvety rich by the porter and chocolate bitters. In Austin, the Salty Sow serves up the Wallow, a blood orange margarita topped with a lager.
“Beer’s changed a whole lot in the last couple of years. You have things like raspberry sours from Saint Arnold’s. You can do a couple of different nice, pretty juices with it to elevate that kind of sour beer,” says Linda Salinas, a Houston-based beverage consultant for brands and restaurants like Liquid Alchemy and Ninfa’s on Navigation. “You can also use an IPA in a beer cocktail and elevate the citrus components of citra hops or any other really pretty floral, white flower hops.”
To find out how to make a well-balanced beer cocktail at home, we spoke with Salinas and Brock Schulte, bartender director of the swanky Monarch Cocktail Bar and Lounge in Kansas City.
Use beer as a modifier to give cocktails a twist
When it comes to beer in cocktails, Schulte prefers to use a small amount of it to add flavor to a cocktail. “I have more fun personally using beer as a modifier. Otherwise, I’m just going to drink the beer,” he laughs. One way he does this is with the French 75. Instead of topping off the gin, lemon juice, and sugar mixture with Champagne, he uses Lindemans Framboise, a lambic fruit beer. The beer has a raspberry aroma and gives the drink a fruity bite. On the Monarch menu is a Planter’s Punch with three rums, banana, and tepache (a fermented pineapple rind beverage), topped with gose which gives the drink some tartness.
Another way Schulte likes to have fun with beer in cocktails is by making a chocolate stout reduction. To do this, the Monarch team carefully cooks down the beer over low heat (if you let it boil the beer can get too bitter). He uses the reduction in a cocktail called Valhalla’s Blessing, a combination of scotch, chai-infused cognac, amaro, and bitters. He says, “The reduction affects the mouthfeel in a way much like if you make a syrup and add gum, like arabic gum. So it gives you a richer, fuller mouthfeel and almost like a velvety texture.”
Use beer to go Low-ABV
Salinas prefers to keep things simple when getting crafty with beer by not overloading it with spirits. She says, “I think, we’re getting to a point now where you’re not trying to get everyone completely bombed all the time, and enjoy good ingredients without trashing everyone’s palette, you know?” A fan of the Beer-mosa (a play on Mimosa that swaps out champagne for beer, Salinas suggests mixing chocolate stout and orange juice. Although the combination sounds strange, it works. “A classic pairing is orange and chocolate, right? Like a Valencia Orange. So, when you think about those flavors and the texture, I think that those work really well,” she explains.
If you do want to make a beer cocktail that’s slightly boozier, Salinas suggests shaking a shot of tequila with tamarind syrup and lime juice and topping it off with Indio, a Mexican lager that adds a hint of caramel.
Warm the beer up in the cooler months
The thought of drinking warm beer may make you cringe, but Salinas’s take on a hot toddy-meets-Vietnamese iced coffee with beer is perfect for the cooler months. It’s a blend of rum, angostura, and condensed milk topped off with a Vietnamese porter by 8th Wonder. The beer is a creamy infusion of cold brew and milk sugar. “We had planned to serve this cocktail at Girl Gang in San Antonio [an all female bartender competition] as snow cones, but it was 45 degrees by the time we started the event,” Salinas says. As a quick fix, they served it warm. Doing so kills the beer’s carbonation, but adds a roastiness that complements the coffee notes and rum nicely.
Schulte also can get behind warm beer cocktails, “There are a lot of ciders out this time of year that are actually great with whiskey. Or whatever main spirit you choose [like rum] as long as it goes well with apples.” He’s also a fan of what he calls the Hat Trick: a shot of espresso and Jameson whiskey topped with Guinness. Schulte explains, “Stouts and porters are inherently sweet but have bitter characteristics that are malty, and roasted; malty flavors always go well with aged whiskies.”