Beer Cocktails – Variety Is the Spice of Life

For most beer lovers, drinking a cold one is a reward in itself, whether you choose to drink it from a goblet, mug, flute glass, weizen glass, stange or (heaven forbid) right from the bottle. However, some drinkers are standing things on their ear. Beer cocktails are becoming more and more popular – these do quite a bit more than just transfer that beautiful beverage to a container to better enhance the head, aroma and flavor. Beer cocktails bring a whole new realm of taste to the party.

What’s It All About?

What are beer cocktails all about anyway? Many purists would say that if you need to combine your beer with another beverage to make it palatable, then you’re drinking the wrong brew. It’s about more than changing the “beer-y” taste of the beverage, though. It’s about experimentation, innovation, fun and yes, new flavors.

These cocktails are particularly popular in the club scene though you’ll also find them available at several of your favorite watering holes too. 

Of course, you can’t confuse a beer cocktail with a shandy. While similar, they’re technically very different things. So, what’s a shandy?

Defining a Shandy

A shandy (or shandygaff) is similar to a beer cocktail in that it combines beer with another beverage. However, rather than combining a brew with distilled liquor (and/or another type of beverage), a shandy is a combination of beer and any beverage other than distilled alcohol. So, beer and lemonade would be a shandy but beer, vodka and lemonade would be a beer cocktail – a “porchcrawler” to be specific.

There are some “standard” beverages used to create shandys. Ginger ale is always popular and so is cider (the soft variety of course). Other popular mixes include Sprite, 7-Up or another citrus flavored soda variety. Lemonade and ginger beer are also popular mixes. Mixing a shandy is largely a matter of personal preference. The usual ratio is 50/50, though those who prefer something with a bit more kick will favor a higher ratio of beer to other beverage.

You’ll find that this particular mixed drink has a pretty long history, especially in areas of Germany and the UK. You’ll also find them in Russia, Spain, Austria and more. A slightly higher octane variation of the shandy is made by mixing beer with a “malt beverage” like Smirnoff Ice or a hard lemonade or hard cider variant.

Beer Cocktail Classics

Now that you know the difference between a beer cocktail and a shandy, it’s time to delve into some of the more popular cocktail options out there. While you’ll find new drinks popping up all the time as drinkers experiment, there are some tried and true options that you’ll find pretty much anywhere. Any of these drinks can add some spice to your drinking life.

The Michelada – The Michelada is akin to the Bloody Mary in that it has a red color and brings some spice to the party. To make this cocktail, you need to mix lager with tomato juice (or soup), as well as Worcestershire, hot sauce, lime and salt. It’s an odd combination of margarita and Bloody Mary in a way. Some recipes also call for the addition of a shot of tequila to the mixture.

The Boilermaker – It’s hard to think of any beer cocktail better known than the boilermaker. Most drinkers are familiar with the beer and a shot on the side variety here, but mixing the two has become quite popular in recent years. For instance, in the UK a boilermaker is made with a shot of bourbon dropped into a pint of pale ale. Whisky, tequila and vodka can be used.

Irish Car Bomb – While the name is a bit offensive in some circles, there’s no denying the popularity of this particular cocktail. There are several variants out there, but they all use Irish stout as the beer base for the mix. Added to this is a shot of Irish cream and Irish whisky (combined in a shot glass and dropped into the pint). An interesting note here is that the cocktail has to be consumed pretty quickly or the cream will curdle, spoiling the drink.

Hangman’s Blood – If you are feeling particularly adventurous, then Hangman’s Blood might be just the beer cocktail for you. This cocktail combines quite a few ingredients, using porter as the base. The most common recipe is a combination of porter, rum, brandy and gin. However, a popular alternative is to mix gin, whisky, rum, port, brandy and stout, and then top it off with champagne. 

Flaming Doctor Pepper – For those who like to truly live on the wild side, this beer cocktail has a lot to offer. To make the drink, you’ll need to mix 3 parts of amaretto with 1 part strong liquor (Everclear, Golden Grain, Bacardi 151 and other high-octane liquors work best) in a shot glass. Don’t mix the liquors – let the high alcohol liquor float on top. This is then set on fire and promptly dropped into a pint of your preferred beer (which puts out the flames).

Why Bother?

For purists, there’s no way to convince them that beer cocktails are worth their time, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. However, for those drinkers who like to try something new every once in a while, then these beverage options can certainly open up an entirely new world of enjoyment. If you’re not that adventurous in terms of taste, you might start out with a simple shandy. You can always move on up to more exotic beverage options once you have established a comfort zone.

Heading out to experiment with beer cocktails and shandys can also be a great excuse to find some new and enjoyable bars and pubs too. After all, the atmosphere is half the fun in the equation – why not find out what other options are available to you? You might just find that you’ve overlooked a hidden gem or two.

Posted on August 1, 2011 and filed under Beer Styles and Trends.