Most people have had a black & tan, which is a combination of two kinds of beer and think it’s pretty tasty. Most people have heard of a Shandy, beer with lemonade or soda added, and think it’s not so tasty.
But beer cocktails go far beyond these two famous examples… What’s your favorite beer cocktail (and yes, despite the title of this post, it can be a black & tan or a shandy)? Find a recipe for that or a new one, try it, and tell us why you did or didn’t like it–even if you think beer cocktails are nothing but a good way to waste a beer. Have fun and try something new!
I’ve had a few beer cocktails over the years, and find them to be a mixed bag. A few bad experiences has elicited such trepidation when I contemplate ordering an untried beer cocktail, that I invariable settle on ordering just a beer… unadulterated. But curiosity and shamelessness has rarely prevented me from suggesting such a cocktail to a trusting compatriot (read my wife). I must confess that when I take my consulting dues of a mouthful or two, I’ve found myself suspiciously impressed on more than one occasion.
This Session topic forced me to the decidedly awkward position of having to take risks.
Re-reading the last sentence and thinking of what that says about my person forces me to the awkward position of sounding thoroughly British. Horrifying thoughts such as these lead a sensible man to drink, and it might as well be a beer cocktail.
I wanted to attempt a beer cocktail from drinks and ingredients that I already have in the house. The idea here was to not spend extra money on a project I feared was doomed to failure, and I also wanted to see if I could construct something from scratch based on taste and intuition alone.
So I started by grabbing a bottle of New Belgium Sunshine Wheat Beer. This is a year-round offering from one of my favourite breweries that I’ll typically enjoy a few sixpacks of when the weather gets hot. It rather loosely falls into the Belgian Wit beer fold, sporting additions of coriander and caracao. As a well-fashioned, refreshing, but quite delicate wheat beer, anything I added needed to be subtle and delicate itself. In retrospect, this would be a wonderful candidate for a shandy if ever I saw one, but lacking lemonade and juice of any description, I opted instead for a gentle spirit. The Cragganmore 12 I consider to be one of, if not the most elegant, and delicate scotches I’ve consumed. I thought its floral nose and palate, with its subtle wood and hints of tropical fruit (rockmelon/cantaloupe) might just make a nice marriage with the New Belgium.
Well… I was wrong. Epic fail. The Cragganmore that I never drink after another scotch because it is so easily overpowered, consumed the Sunshine wheat like a fat kid on cake. It’s woodiness was amplified disproportionately, and all of its elegant beauty transformed into an insipid spicy alcohol, which I tossed after a few puckering mouthfuls. Thankfully my pessimism about the project prompted my using only about a third of the bottle, and I could wash the taste away with the unspoiled remainder.
Not wanting to end on a sour note, I thought I’d take one more crack. Instead of starting with a specific beer and building from there, I decided to start with a concept and see if I had the right ingredients to get there.
This time around I wanted to use items that were stable and strong in their own right, and also, if possible, to use more than two. When I think bold and drink, I want an espresso, a dark, strong beer, or a rich, Islay scotch. I couldn’t see a reason why at least a combination of a couple of these wouldn’t work together. Of course they have before, in the form of coffee stout, or oak aged beers, where the barrels have previously housed a whiskey.
Perusing the beer cupboard, I thought my best bet would be Rogue Shakespeare Stout as the base, with some fresh espresso for the next step. The beautiful, crema head of the stout certainly resonated with the espresso, and the sweetened dark chocolate aroma begged for coffee. I wasn’t sure about the grapefruity cascade that was so prominent on the nose however.
I started reasonably small, with a half glass of Shakespeare, and about 3/4s of a shot of espresso. Adding the coffee triggered a baking soda like effect, with a new head bursting forth, and forming a pockmarked, ravine striped landscape, reminiscent of images from the Voyager Mars probe.
The coffee aroma fit seamlessly, and the cascades took a magnanimous step back, allowing the sweeter scents to accent the espresso. Wow, this actually works! Using decent espresso coffee, and being careful not to over-extract prevents the bitterness from being too high, and the residual sugars in the Shakespeare round off the edges. The existing heavy roastiness of the malt certainly compliments the coffee too.
Next addition – Laphroaig 15 yo. Even when blending scotches, I’m hesitant to use Laphroaig, as it’s such a dominating and singular flavour – the 10 in particular. But I was really hoping the smoky quality of an Islay would add to my blend, and sadly without anoterh Islay option on the shelf, it would have to be this. So I started with a teaspoon, and worked up to a second.
More iodine than smoke came through on the nose, which wasn’t entirely unexpected given the aggressively peaty profile of Laphroaig. It doesn’t seem entirely foreign in the mix, but is still unembraced. Still, a delightful woodsy character appears that only a significantly oaked stout could hope to display.
On the palate it’s an interesting picture. The Laphroaig wants to play, and the smoky oak is welcome, but its seaweedy side is definitely an outsider. Not bad, but not where I want it. I figured at this point that I would experiment a little further, so I added a dash of cinnamon. I probably added slightly too much, but this addition did much more than I expected for the cocktail. Dulling down the iodine flavours and augmenting earthy notes it really lends a winter-warmer feel to the beer.
Were I to do this over, I’m thinking Ardbeg would be a better candidate as the scotch component – more smoke, less peat. An imperial stout with a more rigid structure and greater weight should make a better beer host – maybe Samuel Smith’s Imperial.
So where are we? This cocktail is far from earth-shaking, but its promising… even good. With some tweaking, I might even be on to something!