This is part of Pour One Out, a series about what’s happening to America’s famous appetite for suds—and what’s taking its place.
Beer and spirits are neck and neck for sales volume in the United States, with spirits overtaking suds for the first time in 2022. But who says you have to choose one or the other? If you’re torn between a craft cocktail and a craft beer, you can quench your taste for both with a … beer cocktail!
Purists may scoff at the idea, but mixing beer and spirits long predates the contemporary era of creative mixology. Flips, possets, mulled ales, and ale punches abound in recipe collections from the 19th century and before. Beer rounded out the rough edges of distilled spirits and enabled the making of communal drinks served at an alcoholic strength suitable for extended gatherings. Oxford Night Caps, which documented the drinking traditions of 19th-century Oxonians, included drinks like the Brown Betty, a brandy ale punch. Or perhaps you’d like to try the Blow My Skull, a potent brandy-rum-and-porter concoction from the 1864 English and Australian Cookery Book, said to be a favorite of an unquenchably thirsty governor of Tasmania.
By Brett Adams and Jacob Grier. Chronicle Books.
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The tradition of mixing spirits and beer lives on in drinks like the French Picon bière, which doses refreshingly crisp lager or wheat beer with a shot of bitter orange liqueur. Flavoring beer with spirits is one approach to making a beer cocktail; the inverse is flavoring a cocktail with a small amount of beer, which is the strategy for many contemporary beer cocktails. The wide variety of beer styles offers diverse ways to accent mixed drinks: piney and citrusy notes from hops, sweetness from malt, tartness from sour ales, the bitter roastiness of a porter or stout.
Here are two cocktails that use a small amount of beer to complement the other ingredients. And since neither requires a full bottle of beer, you can have your beer and drink it in a cocktail too.
It would be hubris to suggest that one can improve on the classic mai tai, but one can certainly take it interesting new directions. The mai ta-IPA was created by Portland beer event empresario Ezra Johnson-Greenough and me for a cocktail dinner in New Orleans in 2012. As the name suggests, the recipe adds a splash of IPA to the drink, complementing its tropical notes with bitter and citrusy hoppiness plus a bit of frothy carbonation.
1½ oz. IPA
1 oz. pot still Jamaican rum
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. orgeat
½ oz. orange liqueur
Cocktail cherries and mint, for garnish
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, and garnish with cherries and mint. Note: If shaking the IPA makes you nervous, you can add it after shaking and then strain into the glass.
This cocktail is from a collaboration event I did with Portland’s Upright Brewing and local bar The Bad Habit Room. It captures the roasty notes of stout beer in a rich syrup, which is then used to sweeten an old-fashioned style cocktail made with mezcal, offering touches of spice, smoke, and chocolate.
2 oz mezcal
¼ oz stout syrup*
¼ oz Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash chocolate bitters
Grapefruit peel, for garnish
Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with ice or a single large cube, express the grapefruit peel over the drink, and garnish with the peel.
1 cup Demerara sugar
½ cup stout beer
Combine ingredients in a small pot. Warm over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and keeping watch to make sure it doesn’t foam over. Allow to cool and store refrigerated.