Malt and Hops Stand in for Spirits and Liqueurs

Beer’s Knees Recipe courtesy of Jon Arroyo Farmers Fishers BakersWashington D.C.’s shakers are full of suds, and it’s not because the dishwasher has been slacking off on the job. “Beer has been going through a second renaissance over the past few years,” notes Vince Cassino, general manager and co-owner of Heavy Seas Alehouse (1501 Wilson Boulvevard, Arlington, 703.879.4388, “Chefs are cooking with beer, so mixing beer with cocktails is easy, makes sense and it works.” For sure, what’s inside a foamy, frosty mug has a lot going for it, including layers of flavors, refreshing effervescence and appealing acidity.  And, the lower alcohol content in a hop-tail keeps thirsts quenched and heads clear. Loyal hopheads and devout cocktailians alike are giddy to sip D.C.’s latest batch of brew-based beverages.

The popular Brew and Smoke ($11) at Menu MBK (408 8th Street NW, 202.347.7491, combines smoked pepper Tequila with mango-mint juice and a syrup made with Allagash White Ale and Ceylon tea, and a Porter float. “Beer’s range of flavors and textures makes it an easy fix to balance out a cocktail,” says general manager and beverage director Robert Yealu. And, he adds, a brew can replace the base spirit in a cocktail, rendering an interesting, modern riff. Yealu’s take on a French 75, the Modele 75 ($11), gets its bubbles from Ommegang Hennepin, a farmhouse saison ale, which is mixed with G’Vine Floraison Gin and Buddha Hand tea. (He says that just like beer, tea gives multi-dimensions to a tipple.)

At Heavy Seas, Cassino simmers suds with other ingredients for infused beer syrups. “The alcohol cooks off, and you are left with wonderful residual flavors that don’t overpower a drink.” His version of a Manhattan ($9.75) stirs rye whiskey and Old Fashioned and black walnut bitters with a liqueur made from cooking down Peg Leg Imperial Stout with sugar, and then adding vodka. The Spicy Lost in Pear-adise Martini ($8.25) combines Grey Goose Pear Vodka with St. Germaine and Powder Keg syrup—Cutlass Amber Ale, sugar, black peppercorns and thyme.

Beer cocktails are actually nothing new, says Jon Arroyo. The Shandy, which mixes beer with a carbonated beverage like lemonade or ginger ale, dates back to 1920s Bavaria. The challenge, according to the bar and beverage director and chief mixologist for Farmers Fishers Bakers (3000 K Street NW, 202.298.8783,,) is not to overthink or complicate things. His Shandy Gaff ($10) is a deconstructed version, with Flying Dog Pale Ale, extracted ginger juice, lime juice and simple syrup. Farmers Fishers Bakers’ most popular beer cocktail (especially among the fairer species) is the Greyhawk ($11), with Allagash White, vodka and house made raspberry syrup. “It’s a great, approachable, entry-level beer-based drink.”

So do these sips appeal more to cocktail fans, or beer drinkers? Todd Thrasher mostly mixes them for die-hard beer drinkers willing to nudge just a little bit into cocktail territory. His I’m Feeling Furiously Bitter About This Situation at this Point in my Life ($11) at PX (728 King Street, Alexandria, 703.299.8385, combines Bacardi Rum with grapefruit juice that’s infused with cinnamon and star anise, topped with a spritz of Campari, Aperol and Peychaud’s Bitters. “Beer cocktails should still taste like beer,” he says. “Don’t add too many ingredients to them—keep it simple!”

To experiment, Yealu recommends grabbing a mixed case of beer, along with some friends—and plenty of ice. Think of what a particular beer tastes like, he suggests, and sub it into a cocktail in place of its usual base spirit. “Have fun playing around with the ratios until it’s balanced.”


Witt Whiskey Sour
Recipe courtesy of Robert Yealu, Menu MBK

1.5 oz. whiskey
¾ oz. yuzu or lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
½ teaspoon orange marmalade
2 oz. Allagash white (or another white ale)
2 dashes black walnut or Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake gently. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.


Beer’s Knees
Recipe courtesy of Jon Arroyo, Farmers Fishers Bakers

2-3 oz. Woody Creek Wit Beer
1 oz. Beefeater Gin
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. honey syrup (honey and warm water stirred in a 1:1 ratio)
Orange slice, for garnish

Add the gin, lemon and honey syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a pub glass filled with ice. Top with chilled Woody Creek Wit, and garnish with an orange slice.

Heavy Seas Manhattan
Recipe courtesy of Vince Cassino, Heavy Seas Alehouse, Arlington, VA

2 oz. rye whiskey
½ oz. house made Peg Leg Liqueur (equal parts sugar and beer simmered to dissolve sugar, cooled and then added equal parts liqueur to vodka)
2 dashes Old Fashioned Bitters
1 dash black walnut bitters
Flamed orange peel, for garnish

Add all except garnish to a cocktail tin. Add ice, and stir forty times. Garnish with the flamed orange peel.