No sooner had I submitted to Nightclub & Bar an article about the relative lack of beer cocktails on the menus at many high-end bars than I was reeducated just a bit. There’s also some input from fellow drinks folk that might illuminate what the beer suppliers are thinking. Just as I finished the article, in fact, Frank Bruni of the New York Times took a tour of Manhattan’s better beer-cocktail destinations with this in mind.
“Lately, though, beer has taken on a new and nuanced role in many of this city’s bars, and I’ve taken a brighter shine to it," Bruni writes. "In growing numbers and with growing frequency, bars are not just serving beer solo but also using it as one of many players in mixed drinks. Whether or not the drinks include hard liquor, they are generally referred to as beer cocktails, and they’re much more refined than the whiskey-in-beer boilermaker of yore. Beer has gone on to make friends with vodka, and it has made peace with gin."
He continues, “Because beer cocktails tend to have more volume than other mixed drinks and to be served in larger glasses, they are especially popular in late spring and the summer months, when people are looking to cool down and quench their thirst and are more inclined toward the effervescence that beer brings into the glass."
My thoughts. Exactly. And I heard from a few friends. Stephen Beaumont — whom I mentioned in the piece — and our friend Malt Advocate managing editor and all-around beer guide writer Lew Bryson as well as Canadian bartender Shawn Soole weighed in on Facebook.
“I think brewers don't want to think that their beer needs anything," Soole comments. "I know we have had a bit of push back on our local breweries not wanting to see this.”
Bryson didn’t sound very interested in the beer-cocktail concept.
“I've just never had one that I'd rather have than a beer," he says. "I've had some that aren't bad, I've made some that aren't bad, but... I'd rather have a beer... I've tried these beer cocktails, Beaumont's served 'em to me, but... eh. I'd be with you, Jack: if they were IMPROVED, better than the beer, I'd be all for it. But mostly, they're just different. And when they're not 'just different,' they're worse. Just my experience, of course.”
Beaumont points out the ideal: “When I mix some Storm King with LBV port, I'm not trying to make the Storm King taste better, because I think it tastes pretty damn fine on its own. No, what I'm trying to do is create something as good but different. Same as when I use a good rye in a Manhattan, a fine single malt in a Blood & Sand, quality gin in a Corpse Reviver #2, and so on.”
(Check out the whole conversation on Facebook.) Some folks, as well as the Interwebs gods, pointed out that there are plenty beer cocktails to find if you just look: Ryan Conklin at Denver’s Euclid Hall makes a Cherry Bourbon Milk Stout. On the West coast, a slew of Los Angeles bars feature beer cocktails. And Jim Meehan’s recipe for the Backyard Michelada, a mix of Captain Lawrence Pale Ale, Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky, white grapefruit juice, honey syrup, dill-pickle brine, Gulden’s Spicy Mustard, black pepper and a pickle-spear garnish was featured in a recent Tasting Table newsletter.
I officially stand corrected: Plenty of bartenders are crafting tasty drinks using the world’s best beers. But the silence from the supplier side is defining. No one I’ve spoken with has any idea why beer suppliers, small and large, are bypassing this incredible opportunity. Maybe they’re just spending too much time on more important matters like bottle shape and the NFL lockout to do something about a market ready, willing and able to save their bacon… Bacon beer — now there’s an idea!