oday’s bartenders haven’t been shy about
reaching into the kitchen pantry for ingre-
dients, but for a while they were reaching
right over their tap handles to get there. That
oversight didn’t last, and today beer-based cocktails are
a growing part of the bartender’s repertoire.
There is some history to build on. The Black Velvet, a lay-
ered mix of dry stout and Champagne, dates back to the 19
century, for example, and the Boilermaker—a shot with a beer
chaser—led to the Depth Charge, with the liquor dropped into
the beer itself. Frankie Thaheld, director of culinary mixology
at Snake Oil Cocktail Co. in San Diego, says Boilermakers were
an initial inspiration, pairing genever with a lager and using the
familiar beer to introduce drinkers to the less-
er-known Dutch gin. But it’s a long way from
there to his combination of Plymouth Gin, St.
Germain and smoked porter, elegantly pre-
sented in a martini glass.
When building a beer-based cocktail, “I
like to think of the liquor component as the
starting point,” says Thaheld. “People seem to
choose more by liquor than by beer.” Adam
Seger, a Chicago mixologist and founder of
Balsam Spirits, takes that a step further: “The
biggest thing I find is to start with a cocktail
that’s balanced on its own, and use beer as a
way to enhance the cocktail, versus trying to
manipulate the beer.” For example, “taking a
cocktail that would normally have soda and
replacing that with a beer—a Collins with a lager or pilsner.” At
Tales of the Cocktail 2012, Seger and sommelier Doug Frost pre-
sented a cocktail based on a classic combination: rum and ginger
beer. Rum was the base liquor, but they replaced the ginger beer
with a ginger-habanero syrup and a stout for carbonation, creating
a more textured and complex drink.
Poured, not shaken
On the other hand, if the cocktail is meant to have a beer-like
texture, some tweaking may be required to keep the beer from
seeming flat when mixed with other ingredients.
“Never shake a cocktail with beer as an ingredient;
it’s a foamy mess,” says Thaheld. “Pour the beer into
the cocktail.”
Seger suggests layering the cocktail in a highball
glass: base liquor, etc., in the bottom, with ice, and
then beer on top, without stirring. “The first taste
is predictable—beer, carbonation and aromas; the
middle of the drink a mix of beer and cocktail; and
the bottom mostly cocktail.” Cold temperatures also
help preserve the carbonation, so chilled glassware
or ice can help. Alternatively, Seger recommends
using Prosecco to replace the carbonation that oth-
er ingredients have diluted.
Another option is including citrus fruits for
acidity, which can add freshness and flavor in lieu
by Adam Seger
New Calling:
With flavors and cocktails
driving bar business, beer is
getting into the mix
Frankie Thaheld, director of
culinary mixology at Snake Oil
Cocktail Co. in San Diego
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