One of the more spirited seminars we attended during this year’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic was on the subject of beer cocktails. Some people love them. Some people hate them. And most people are just curious as to where beer cocktails fall into the spectrum of bartending and consumption. Leading the seminar was writer and bartender Toby Cecchini, who moderated a panel comprised of Christian Krogstad (House Spirits), Brooke Arthur (House Spirits), Ben Dobler (Widmer Brothers Brewing) and Max Watman (author).
Ben Dobler led off with a statement that was reiterated a handful of times throughout the session — if there’s synergy, do it. If not, don’t. Basically, he said there should be a point to using beer in a cocktail. Don’t do it because it’s trendy; do it because this particular cocktail will benefit from the addition of beer. Every ingredient needs to help the total package.
Toby went on to add that beer is similar to other drink-extending modifiers like sparkling wine or ginger beer. But since beer comes in a huge variety of styles, each with its own structure and flavor, it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient. Don’t think about beer as a category. Think about individual beer styles — like stouts, IPAs and hefeweizens — and how they’ll individually impact a cocktail.
Brooke Arthur mentioned that beer can often replace the acidity in cocktails you’d typically get from lemon, lime, or grapefruit. And Christian Krogstad added some science-y facts about beer’s ph level, and how it stays about the same when mixed into a drink. This means that your beer of choice won’t be heavily altered — at least in terms of ph — by the addition of other mixers, so it will hold up nicely and act as you intended.
The panel then spent some time discussing a few different ways people are using beer in cocktails. It’s an easy topper, but it can also be employed in syrups and foams. One of the more interesting things we’ve noticed in the past year is the use of stout and porter-based syrups. Such use of beer allows the bartender to add beer flavor without altering the carbonation level or length of a drink.
The whole thing ended on this note: people often segregate drinks into categories, like beer cocktails, wine cocktails, spirit-forward drinks, etc. That can be very handy for engaging with a customer or setting your menu. But when you’re creating a drink, don’t pigeonhole it. Just think about what ingredients would combine to make the best possible final product. And then go forth and make it.
Photo: Bonnie Burke