Here come the suds

I was, for far too many years, an insufferable beer snob.

I know: Beer is not typically associated with elitist tastes and nose-wrinkling attitudes. At least, it wasn’t until the craft beer movement arrived and thrust us into a world of specialty malts and aroma hops and ABVs and IBUs.

I documented the early days of microbreweries as a journalist in Portland, Ore., during the late 1980s and quickly got wrapped up in the scene as an all-grain home brewer during the 1990s and early 2000s. I was convinced that every ale and lager should conform to an established style, that fruit had no place in a beer glass, and that beer should absolutely never be used as a cocktail ingredient.

All of which I’ve come to see as narrow and prudish.

Beer is, in fact, an interesting and versatile component of many mixed drinks. And it has long been thus: Jerry Thomas’s groundbreaking How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862) lists many beer-inclusive recipes, from the Porter Cup and the Ale Flip to the Arf and Arf (which is, admittedly, just half porter and half ale). Adrienne Stillman’s Spirited: Cocktails from Around the World catalogs at least a dozen drinks from variously cultures that utilize fermented barley beverages of one kind or another.

Among Stillman’s discoveries:

  • The Yorsh, a Russian drink mixing vodka and any style of beer; it is “traditionally consumed in one go.”
  • The Beertini, beer served with olives and a touch of olive brine; it’s a Midwestern bar staple. “Craft beers need not apply: This one is best with Bud or Coors Light.”
  • The Stone Crush, created at New York’s Up and Up Bar, combining vermouth, two kinds of amaro and pilsner, and Brennivin, the caraway-tinged national spirit of Iceland.
  • American Orange Punch, a truly excessive amalgamation of rum, brandy, curaçao, and porter; it was “infamously served at President Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829, which resulted in mayhem in the White House.”

The most famous beer cocktail, if you can call it that, is the Boilermaker, a shot of whiskey dropped into a glass of beer; it’s really more of a bar dare than a drink. Unless you think it’s been too long since your last hangover, I recommend something slightly more refined.

My favorite beer cocktail is Here Comes the Sun, created at the Washington, D.C., restaurant and bar Roofers Union. A mix of rye whiskey and wheat beer, the cocktail also includes a healthy dose of ginger simple syrup as well as lemon juice. The result is refreshing and exotic, and better than any wheat beer on its own.

If Here Comes the Sun is a perfect summer cooler, the Black Velvet will fit right in on a cool autumn evening. The drink has been around since the 1860s; its combination of stout beer and brut Champagne is said to be named for the mourning clothes Queen Victoria wore after the death of Prince Albert. The sparkling wine gives the cocktail a slightly sweet character that pairs surprisingly well with the bitter stout.

Finally, no discussion of beer cocktails would be complete without mention of the Shandy, which brings together lager beer and lemonade (or, in Britain where it originated, sparkling lemon soda). It’s actually an updated version of the Shandygaff (Old English for “pub water”), which married lager with ginger beer.

For a savory twist on the Shandy, try a variation using Campari, orange and lime juices, and a pinch of paprika and cayenne. It’s pink, astringent, sort of like a Negroni crossed with a Mexican Razor Blade.

With beer, of course.

Here Comes the Sun

Adapted from

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce ginger simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce wheat beer
Lemon wedge for garnish

Add whiskey, ginger syrup, and lemon juice to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe and top with beer. Garnish with lemon wedge.

Black Velvet

Adapted from Spirited: Cocktails from Around the World by Adrienne Stillman

3 ounces stout beer
3 ounces brut-style Champagne or dry sparkling wine

Pour beer into champagne flute or stemmed glass. Gently top with sparkling wine.

Citrus Shandy

Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 ounce Campari
1/3 cup fresh orange juice, strained
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 pinches sweet paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch kosher salt
Lager beer

Vigorously stir all ingredients except beer in a mixing glass. Pour about 8 ounces of beer into a chilled highball glass over ice. Add Campari mixture. Stir gently. 

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