Brew cocktails are the new Tom Cruise

by Jason Foster

Manhattans, whisky sours, Singapore slings and so many more: there are dozens of classic cocktails that add a touch of elegance and adventure to a night out. Mix together a couple of spirits with juices, herbs, fruits and other flavourings and you can create a complex and sophisticated adult beverage.

But where’s the beer?

Almost none of the classic mixtures include beer as an ingredient. Sure, you can order a black and tan — a mixture of stout and pale ale — or even a snakebite, which combines pale lager with apple cider. But a true beer cocktail? Nope.

Until recently, at least.

As beer gains a reputation as a drink worthy of serious consideration (and trust me — that’s been a long time coming), creative bartenders are starting to play around with cocktails that include it. And they’re not just combining two different beers (although that’s happening more and more as well), or making a pedestrian concoction like red eye (bloody Mary and lager): they’re using beer in a cocktail the same way you’d use vermouth, brandy or fruit juice.

So why not try a few of these more common examples out? They may or may not be served at your local watering hole, but I bet if you ask (and the beer selection is up for it) they can quickly whip one up for you — or you can just make them at home!

First, there are the “shot in a glass” drinks — like Boilermakers, U-Boats or Sake Bombs (whisky, vodka and sake, respectively) — where you submerge a shot of hard liquor and drink it all in one go. Basically, they just double up the buzz without adding anything to the beer — so let’s nod and move on.

Black Velvet is much more legitimate, and it’s been around for quite a while. Mixing one part Guinness with one part champagne, it creates a smooth, silky and bubbly celebration drink. (Along the same lines — and with a great name — is the freakishly delicious Irish Car Bomb, which combines Guinness or another dry Irish stout with a shot of Irish whisky and a shot of Irish cream.)

Good stuff — but the newer beer cocktails take things to a whole new level. Some try to stick with well-known flavours while adding beer, like the Beergarita: take two ounces of tequila, three ounces of limeade (or equivalent) and a bottle of a light lager, then tack on a lime wedge and the required salt for the rim, and you’ve got a kick-ass drink for the beach.

Or maybe you enjoy a whisky sour now and then (and who doesn’t?), so why not try a Weizen Sour? It’s basically the former with beer added: take two ounces of bourbon, 3/4 oz. of fresh lemon juice, 1/4 oz. of simple syrup, a dash of orange marmalade and two dashes orange bitters, and mix with two oz. of witbier (like Blanche de Chambly). The citrusy witbier complements the tart sweetness of the other ingredients, and the world suddenly seems like a happy place.

How about a new take on a seriously old classic? During prohibition, there was a cocktail called Bee’s Knees, which masked the gin aroma with sweet honey. More recently, someone came up with the idea of Beer’s Knees — which adds hefeweizen to the mix. The recipe is fairly straightforward: take three ounces of your favourite hefeweizen (such as König Ludwig or the recently arrived Granville Island Robson Street Hefeweizen), add 1 1/2 ounces of gin, one ounce of lemon juice and one ounce of honey syrup (one part honey, one part water). Plop on a lemon wedge garnish and you have a citrusy, light-bodied cocktail that’s perfect for summer.

Then there are completely new creations — and one of the more intriguing examples of many is the Steamroller. The core ingredient is Anchor Steam Beer, a classic American brand, but any moderately hoppy beer, such as a pale ale, will work just as well. The recipe is complex: a full bottle of Anchor Steam, one ounce each of elderflower liqueur, rye whisky, and lemon juice; and 1/2 ounce of cherry liqueur blended with ice and a twist of lemon. It produces a multi-layered, surprisingly drinkable cocktail that balances tartness with fruity sweetness.

Let’s give the last word to famous author Anthony Burgess, who invented a particularly complex beer cocktail which has become known as Hangman’s Blood. (Warning: this is a cocktail best shared among multiple people.) Start with a bottle of rich stout (I’d go for something heavier than Guinness, like St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout); add two fingers each of gin, whisky, rum, port and brandy. Toss in a splash of champagne to accent the bubbles — and then stay away from heavy machinery.

Burgess described his concoction as something that was “very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover.”

Maybe that’s why his books are so intense.