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Classic Mexican cheladas have inspired a new wave of beer cocktails, including this sweet-heat version
Classic Mexican cheladas have inspired
a new wave of beer cocktails, including
this sweet-heat version featuring
mango syrup and chile.



Mixologists are shaking up the cocktail scene, using wine and beer to give new life to mixed drinks



T here doesn’t seem to be much call today in bars

and restaurants for the rudimentary Red Eye (beer

and tomato juice) or the Wine Cooler (wine with

sparkling water or soda and fruit juice). But there’s nothing wrong with the idea of mixing other flavors with beer or wine to create drinks with new taste profiles. In fact, a small but significant move is afoot to incorporate the two into contemporary cocktails.


“[Beer is] a whole new palette of flavors to work with,” says Stephen Beaumont, author, with Brian Morin, of “The Beerbistro Cookbook,” (Key Porter Books, 2009) and creator of beer cocktails for the Beerbistro in Toronto, Canada. “Bartenders and mixologists have been playing around with all sorts of different culinary ingredients, making their own shrubs and bitters, for instance, and completely ignoring the fact that we’re living amidst the greatest wealth of beer flavors and styles that our society has ever seen.” These flavors work perfectly in cocktail making, he notes, offering new directions and possibilities for blended beverages incorporating beer. And why not? Flavorful blends of beer are as old as brewing itself. Kriek, a lambic-style Belgian brew, is fermented with sour cherries; framboise is similarly made using raspberries. Belgian wit beers are often served with a lemon wedge to brighten the orange-peel-and-coriander pop of the brew. Other regional recipes call for adding a dash of fruit syrup or liqueur to beer.

As Beaumont tells it, there are basically three types of beer-based beverages: those made from a blend of two or more beers; those served with an added ingredient or two; and the full-fledged cocktail in which beer is simply another, albeit important, ingredient. Stout has always been a good mixer: The Black Velvet, stout and Champagne, is a well-loved drink; newer versions mix stout with other regions’ sparkling wines or with sparkling cider. The Black and Tan, made from stout or porter and ale, is perhaps one of the best-known of beer’s two-way blends, and the lowly Shandy comes in many varieties; most common are those made with ale or beer and lemonade, ginger beer or even sorrel tea. But with the vast number of different brews available today, crafting contemporary beer blends is within reach of any willing experimenter, and many mixologists use distinctly flavored craft brews as one of many ingredients in a modern cocktail concoction.


The same is true of wine. The average American consumer can choose from a broader range of varietals, regions, flavors and wine styles today than at any other time. “One of the benefits of drinking wine cocktails is that our reach now is so great,” says A.J. Rathbun, author of “Wine Cocktails” (The Harvard Common Press, 2009). “There’s a multinationalism of drinks out there — many more types and varietals of wines available and many more types of ingredients to mix with them. You can make more

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BEVERAGE TRENDS MELISSA PUNCH A.J. Rathbun, author of “Wine Cocktails,” mixes up the traditional mimosa with

A.J. Rathbun, author of “Wine Cocktails,” mixes up the traditional mimosa with vanilla and pear flavors and a vanilla pod for garnish.

interesting drinks and take advantage of this bounty of ingredients.” In addition to boasting lower alcohol levels and broader flavor options, wine and beer can add complexity, high acids and depth to cocktails, all characteristics mixologists demand. Beer can inject a robustly grainy tang, and those with hoppy notes add a welcome bitterness. Meanwhile, the flavor profiles of wines can include pineapple, vanilla, apple, pear, blackberry, cherry and other fruit notes. Due mainly to their lower alcohol content, beer and wine drinks provide a better match for most spicy cuisines: high-alcohol beverages leave a burning sensation on a palate opened by spices.


Of course, to beer and wine aficionados, adding anything post-production to their favorite tipple seems sacrilegious. The odd Champagne cocktail and old, standby beer mixtures like the Black and Tan are grudgingly accepted, but many contemporary drinkers tend to burrow deeper into their category of choice rather than experiment with a mixologist’s creations. But both beer and wine have long been served mixed. Brewing cultures frequently blended different beer styles or added flavoring agents. In most European societies, fortified wines (like vermouth and port) and sparkling wines were the base for mixed drinks, punches and fizzes. Today, many wine-focused restaurant operators see an advantage to serving sparkling-wine cocktails, as their perceived elegance makes them an easy entry point. At the Purple Café and Wine Bar in Seattle, 16 Champagne cocktails appear on the wine list, including most of the classics, like the French 75, made with gin and sweetened lemon juice, and the Mimosa, made with orange juice. Newer drinks like the Sea Captain’s Special are made with rye, pastis and Champagne.


Other wine-based drinks, such as sangrias, have become popular again, appearing in many modern iterations on chain and independent restaurant menus: Caribbean- themed Bahama Breeze prominently features four sangrias (spice berry, rock melon, blackberry and mango), made with white, red or white zinfandel. Restaurants serving a broad range of beers are also likely candidates to spearhead the beer-cocktail trend. New York City’s Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro & Wine Bar has developed a reputation for serving special brews, and now the restaurant hosts Brew Tuesday, when beers are discounted and pairings with cheese are promoted. Last winter, the program expanded to feature five beer cocktails. “It’s something interesting for the beer drinker,” says Artisanal’s beverage director, Ian Nal. “We have a lot of guests who are serious about beer, and it gives them a chance to try something new and interesting.”



Summer 2009


Artisanal’s cocktails feature 2 or 3 ounces of beer as part of the ingredient mix, rather than standard beer portions dosed with an added ingredient or two. Some recipes are familiar: the East Side Story is a sort of mojito made with rum, lime, muddled mint and a hefeweizen beer, while the Cabo San Lager is a play on the Margarita, lightened with beer. Other drinks are more creative: La Fleur combines citrus vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon and hefeweizen. The Tennessee Peach mixes Jack Daniels, peach schnapps, peach puree, lemon and lime juices with a nut- brown ale.


When Beaumont started creating beer cocktails at Beerbistro, he drew inspiration from his travels in France, where good beer bars routinely offered beer cocktails, such as the Amer Biere, made with the bitter orange cordial Amer Picon and beer. He also encountered elaborate concoctions like the Biere Flambé, which called for brandy to be flamed in a glass, followed by a pour of beer that slowly raised the fire as the glass filled. While flaming drinks are largely frowned upon in the United States, other mixers are becoming more common. At the newly opened Manhattan tequila bar, Mayahuel, owner Phil Ward has assembled a cocktail list that includes both beer- and wine-based drinks. From its opening in April 2009, he’s offered tequila sangrias combining strawberry-infused tequila with rosé wine and elderflower; another version uses jalapeno- infused tequila with vermouth, sugar cane and lime. Ward also showcases classic cheladas, or Mexican beers, with lime and salt, as well as Micheladas, Mexican beer with sangrita, the traditional tequila accompaniment made from tomatoes, orange juice, lime juice, onions, salt and chiles. A new creation, El Jimador’s Shifty, combines pineapple-infused mescal, lime, sugar cane and dark Mexican beer served with a spiced-salt rim. In Seattle last spring, Jamie Boudreau, bar director for Tini Bigs and a spirit and cocktail consultant, introduced a new cocktail menu with a section of wine-based drinks for warmer weather. When developing recipes

The FLAVOR PAYOFF Stay Ahead with Beer By Maria Caranfa, director, Mintel Menu Insights Research
Stay Ahead with Beer
By Maria Caranfa, director, Mintel Menu Insights
Research conducted by Mintel Menu Insights in May 2009 shows beer
leading the way in alcohol sales in retail, restaurant and bar settings.
The sales power of artisan and craft brews continues to turn heads in
the industry, while sophisticated cocktails also make waves.
Combining beer and cocktail concepts to create new beer cocktails is
a winning recipe for beverage programs in all segments and sizes.
Examples from some innovative operations provide six blueprints for
putting beer into a range of cocktail mixes:
1. Add to Classics: New York City’s Joshua Tree restaurant
and bar adds a head of Guinness to its Black Russian, made
with Finlandia vodka, Tia Maria and cola.
2. Play Up Flavors: Back Forty in New York City plays up the
sweet, herbaceous and earthy notes of Left Hand Brewery’s
Sawtooth Ale by mixing it with DH Krahn gin and lemon and
serving it in a pilsner glass rimmed with local honey and salt.
3. Make Local Heroes: Incorporate local and house-made
brews into locally inspired cocktails. Nacional 27, a Lettuce
Entertain You restaurant in Chicago, created the Chicagoan,
a blend of Irish whiskey sour, Chicago’s Goose Island 312
beer float and a sport pepper more commonly found on the
Chicago hot dog.
4. Pick Fruit: Enhance the fruit flavors in beer with like-
minded mixers. Casa Nueva of Athens, Ohio, makes a
Raspberry Wheat Mimosa by mixing Marietta Brewing Co.’s
Raspberry Wheat draft with chilled orange juice.
5. Run with the Popular Crowd: Find ways to add a splash
of beer to your best-selling drinks. Casual chain restaurant
Claim Jumper mixes its Fool’s Gold Margarita with traditional
flavors of 1800 Silver Tequila, Cointreau, sweet-and-sour
mix and fresh lemon and lime juices, topped off with a splash
of Claim Jumper hefeweizen, served on the rocks with a
salted rim.
6. Go All Day: In Chicago, Uncommon Ground’s Beermosa
proves that beer has a place at breakfast or brunch. The
combination of Bell’s Oberon wheat beer and orange juice is
an easy morning mix; the juice picks up on the beer’s fruity,
spicy notes.

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using wine, Boudreau looks for those with expressive fruit and low tannins — easy to find in the fruit-forward world of modern winemaking. “I think of the wines as vermouth, and in trying to figure out how to use them, I thought, ‘How does vermouth work in a drink?’” says Boudreau, who has worked with a winery to develop wine-based cocktails that have appeared on numerous restaurant menus. “With a shiraz, I thought of what goes with sweet vermouth; with a Sauvignon Blanc, I thought of dry vermouth.” Wine is the main ingredient in these drinks, and spirits are applied as an accent, the way a cordial would be in a spirit-based cocktail. Boudreau’s spring 2009 menu for Tini Bigs included Aude Man Thyme, made with chardonnay, gin, thyme and peach puree. This newcomer joined a circa-19th century recipe for Wine Cobbler, made with Pineau des Charentes (a fortified wine), peach puree and grapefruit bitters, on Tini Bigs’ menu. Another notable is the Incan Gold, made with Sauvignon Blanc, pisco, pomegranate juice, lemon juice and peaches. Rathbun, whose book includes a section about drinks based on white, red, rosé, sparkling and dessert wines, says wine-tails work best when they are easily quaffable, light in alcohol, refreshing and fun. “I’m always looking for something that offers a little more personality,” he says. “And with so many wine drinkers today, wine cocktails are a way to get them interested and drag wine-only people over into cocktails.”

SIMMERED-DOWN FLAVORS Chefs have long employed wine reductions, and creative mixologists have borrowed the technique for drink applications, adding sweeteners, herbs, spices, salt or fruit before reducing. Boudreau has done the same with beer. In one drink, he made a beer-based bitter amaro flavored with orange, which he added to a lager beer. He also made a reduction from a Belgium framboise lambic that he uses in cocktails in place of commercially made raspberry liqueur. With his own reductions, he’s able to control the level of alcohol and sugar in a drink, key to making balanced cocktails. Among the obvious rules to consider when introducing wine- or beer-based drinks to customers:

> Work with ingredients you already have. Start by researching classic recipes and adjust according to your concept or modern tastes. > Go slowly to gauge whether your customer base is interested in the concept. > Always use the best fruit and juices, and experiment with various sweeteners. > Look for good, but not rare or more- expensive ingredients when creating new drink mixes. And remember to keep it new: Artisanal’s Nal plans to change his beer-cocktail menu seasonally, adding perhaps watermelon and mint to the mix as the weather warms. “I think you always have to keep things lively, and people are more receptive to cocktails these days,” Boudreau says. Chefs don’t rest on the tried and true; neither should mixologists. And, with the competition in the restaurant business ratcheted up by the current recession, adding new twists and anticipating customers’ needs is absolutely essential, whether in beers, wines or cocktails — or all three. &

in beers, wines or cocktails — or all three. & T A K E - AWA



HEAT CONTROL: Highly spiced foods are a great match for wine- and beer-based mixed drinks; their lower alcohol content helps cool the palate rather than adding to the burn, as hard liquors can do

EASY ENTRY: Cocktails incorporating sparkling wines are an easy sell; the concept isn’t too “far out,” there’s a perception of elegance, and wine-drinkers will take the leap into the cocktail realm

PORTION CONTROL: Just a few ounces of beer is all that’s needed as a supporting ingredient in a cocktail; take care not to overdose with a standard beer portion

JACK ROBERTIELLO writes about spirits, cocktails, wine, beer and food from Brooklyn, N.Y.; he can be e-mailed at



Summer 2009