Beer Cocktails are funny things. As somebody interested in both beer and cocktails as individual and distinct subjects, you might think that beer cocktails would excite me – the confluence of two things I am passionate about in one glass would surely be fascinating. But the truth is, I find beer cocktails to be uninspiring and frivolous, the latest fad in a culture that apparently celebrates craft and likes to celebrate it by smashing those crafts together without care or forethought. To me, the phrase “beer cocktail” reminds me more of a “dirty pint” – a beer with extra booze; it’s not designed for flavour, it’s to get you drunk quicker.
Just after the US craft beer revolution started to drift over to Britain, beer cocktails were really only being considered in chain pubs like Wetherspoons. A bottle of Corona upturned into a glass filled with something, anything else, as long as it included tequila for that whole Mexican look or a mug of Guinness with Amaretto and Coffee Liqueur and a potentially derogatory name related to the Irish were par for the course.
Now craft beer has well and truly taken off on this side of the Atlantic, and now that more drinkers recognise a craft beer in among the fridges of “International Beers” and crafty pretenders, beer cocktails are on the lips of trendsetters once again but now using the vast array of wonderful craft beers available to us. But why?
The problem I’ve always had with the concept of “Craft beer cocktails” is that a cocktail is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts. You would never ever make a Godfather with Disaronno and Glenfarclas 1964. That’s a whisky that is flawless on its own, and has a price to match. Dropping that in a cheap liqueur seems a waste, and you’ll only be masking some of the nuances of flavour that you’ve paid so much money for in the first place. You wouldn’t drop a Late Bottled Vintage port into a Guinness, or an outstanding Cognac into an amber ale just for the hell of it.
Craft brews are the fine scotches, aged ports and the small batch gins of the beer world. Making a craft cocktail with a good spirit and a good beer ruins both, and elevates neither.
Lagers lend themselves well to cocktails because they are sufficiently light and provide a good starting point to build up flavours. The same goes for cheap, flavourless, watery brews, hence why they have been used since the very beginning of the trend. They aren’t there to provide a flavour really, they are there as a vehicle for more booze. More complex beers have too many nuances which will simply be lost with the addition of a spirit. All that will happen is you will reduce it down to a beery flavour, so you may as well start off with a very simply beery flavoured beer.
One example that sticks in my mind is a Negroni made with Magic Rock Cannonball IPA. Want to know how to mask the delightfully bitter prickle of an IPA? With the ridiculously pungent onslaught of Italian bitters. The hops were there, lingering in the background, but not nearly enough when it’s drowned out so effectively. A fabulous IPA had been reduced to a simple beery flavour.
I like the idea of beer cocktails, though it does feel a bit like an unnecessary gambit, just trying to force the two together (though it’s easy to see how it would be a natural blend). But when there are so many decent spirits out there and so many truly crafted beers, why risk losing anything from them?Photo Credit: Lemon Water