With the rising number of craft breweries and the popularity of beer in general, it was only a matter of time before someone would get creative. Beer cocktails are having their turn in the spotlight, appearing on menus in high end bars from New York to San Francisco. However, despite the recent buzz about beer cocktails, these mix-ups of beer, spirits and other ingredients are not new.
Purists may claim that a cocktail must contain a type of alcohol, such as tequila or rum, but classic beer cocktails are more often made from beer with another addition, be it a different type of beer or another drink. The shandy, a 50/50 mix of beer (usually a lager) and lemonade, is a popular summertime beverage both for its refreshing nature and its lower alcohol content. Leinenkugel’s makes three different shandy varieties, but it’s incredibly easy to mix your own. Try substituting ginger beer for the lemonade and experiment with different types of ales and lagers to find your own super shandy.
The michelada is a Mexican term for beer mixed with lime juice, different spices and sauces. The preparation will vary depending on what part of Mexico you’re visiting, but the common ingredients are the lime juice and salt; different versions may include hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce, peppers or clam juice in a glass with a seasoned rim. In Vail, Vendetta’s serves up its version of a michelada that is mostly beer, lime juice and salt.
The recent influx of hard ciders that are more on the dry side rather than the sweet style has inspired the resurgence of cider cocktails as well as beer combinations. Half cider and half lager creates a “snake bite,” a good gateway cocktail for those who might normally eschew beer. Other popular combinations include cider with a spirit, such as rum or whiskey. Gore Range Brewery offers several options of cider cocktails using Angry Orchard hard cider. With the evenings getting colder, a cider cocktail is a fall favorite for taking the chill out of the air.
New school brews
The current beer trend that is making its way to the Vail Valley is not “beer with something else in it,” but rather “a cocktail that includes beer,” a variation where the beer actually adds to the cocktail rather than dominating the experience.
During EdFest, Crazy Mountain Brewing Company teamed up with Altitude Spirits to create several beer cocktails. With gin, vodka or bourbon as the base, the cocktails also incorporated Crazy Mountain beers, creating a new taste that, while it included beer, did not taste “beer-y.”
“I think it’s another avenue to enjoy beer,” said Marisa Selvy, co-owner and vice president of marketing at Crazy Mountain Brewing Company. “You can have a pint at any time, but sometimes you want to have something special from beer.”
Selvy described one of the cocktails that incorporates Stranahan’s whiskey, blood orange juice and the Mountain Livin’ Pale Ale. While a pint of the pale ale might be too much for a novice beer drinker, the cocktail makes it more accessible.
“In this cocktail, we paired the beer with blood orange juice, which really complements the beer and lets it express itself in a different manner than just straight up in a pint glass,” Selvy said. “It’s a way to experience the beer but not just have a pint of it.”
The gin cocktail, which included lemonade and Mountain Livin’ Pale Ale, was a deceptively light cocktail, cool and bright; the ale elevated the flavor profile, complementing instead of overpowering.
It’s a matter of getting lost in the choices of new microbreweries and spirits, explained Josh Laguna, sales manager at Altitude Spirits who was pouring cocktails and explaining the recipes to guests at EdFest.
“I think that everybody is trying beer cocktails because the market is so saturated that people are looking for the most interesting and different thing that they can find,” Laguna said.
At 7 Hermits in Eagle, the beer cocktail is part of the very fabric of the brewery. Instead of mixing the cocktails one by one, the Beergarita, a margarita that incorporates the World’s Greatest Pale Ale, and the Bright and Sunny, which includes the Gold Dust Blonde, are mixed into kegs and poured straight from the tap.
The result is a cocktail that is remarkably smooth, with the flavors married beautifully. The Beergarita is a bit too refreshing, with the pale ale incorporating the elements of sweet and sour and the lime juice adding a citrus kick. It’s easy to drink — perhaps too easy.
“We have to remind people that there is tequila in the Beergarita,” laughed Matt Marple, brewer at 7 Hermits.
While the classic beer cocktail is not a new invention, the opportunity to taste the new expressions of creativity from brewers, bartenders and mixologists is always welcome. So, before skipping straight over the beer portion on the menu, take a closer look: your new favorite cocktail is waiting to be discovered — and it just might include beer.