I Tried It: Beer Cocktails Part 1, Baby Steps

I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about liquor. Well, almost nothing - I know I like gin and scotch, but don't really care for tequila. I know that I don't know my limits with liquor the way I do with beer, but that liquor tends to make me pretty mellow and silly. (For anyone out there wondering, I also know that cider makes me sassy and wine makes me mean.) Beyond that, I'm pretty lost when it comes to liquors and if someone asks what sort of mixed drink I want, I'll probably panic and order a vodka cranberry because that's pretty much the only liquor drink I'm reasonably certain I'll be able to drink without wincing and coughing like a high school freshman trying to blend in. I love gin rickeys, but can rarely find a bartender who knows how to make one. Craft beer cocktails are growing in popularity and the art of creating craft cocktails featuring craft liquors and made from scratch ingredients, such as simple syrups and bitters, are quickly becoming a movement in their own right.

Beer Street and Gin Lane by William Hogarth are two of my absolute favorite prints. Also a pretty accurate depiction of me drinking beer compared to liquor.

Beer Street and Gin Lane by William Hogarth are two of my absolute favorite prints. Also a pretty accurate depiction of me drinking beer compared to liquor.

I am curious about all the ways beer can be enjoyed outside of drinking it from a glass, from cooking to cocktails. However, my experience in mixing beer with anything is nonexistent. I'm working my way up from drinking my beer "straight" to being able to order a craft beer cocktail at some hip place and having at least an idea of what to expect. That being said, the first installment of my experiments with craft beer cocktails this week starts out relatively tame, with three beer cocktails mixed with cider, other beer (still counts), and espresso.

Beer Cocktail #1: Snake Bite from Red Clay Ciderworks

Beer: Willie Saison from Wooden Robot Brewery and Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls from Red Clay Ciderworks

How to Make It: equal parts beer and cider

Notable Facts: The Snake Bite was popularized in the UK in the 1980s and is (falsely) rumored to be illegal there now because they are so drinkable. Snake Bites are typically made with lager and cider, but ale can be used instead of lager.

The Verdict: I had never had a Snake Bite before. When I ordered it, the bartender asked if I wanted a classic snake bite or something different. I asked him to surprise me, which is how I ended up with a Snake Bite consisting of Willie Saison and Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls. It just so happens that the Willie Saison is one of my favorite beers from Wooden Robot and Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls is my very favorite cider from Red Clay. In the glass, the Snake Bite was a reddish-orange color with a thick, rocky head. Having just sampled the Willie Saison by itself, its farmhouse taste (musty, goaty, barnyard-y) was still fresh in my mind. I could still pick out the farmhouse aroma and taste from the Willie Saison along with a nice, strong (but not too strong) apple flavor from the cider. The tartness of the cherries in the cider added a bit of a metallic flavor to the cocktail. Overall, I enjoyed my Snake Bite very much and it was a new and different flavor combination for my palate. True to its history, it was very drinkable, almost dangerously so. I look forward to trying other Snake Bite combinations.

Beer Cocktail #2: Gordgeous Pumpkin Ale & Premium Roast Coffee Stout from NoDa Brewing Company

Beer: Gordgeous Pumpkin Ale & Premium Roast Coffee Stout from NoDa Brewing           

How to Make It: equal parts of each beer

NoDable Facts (see what I did there?): Gordgeous is NoDa’s seasonal pumpkin ale, available this year in cans. They use over 50 pounds of pumpkins and 42 pounds of brown sugar for each batch and crack their whole seed spices on brew day. Premium Roast Coffee Stout is made with an exclusive blend for NoDa from Parliament Coffee Roasters.

The Verdict: I have had this secret menu item from NoDa a couple times before when friends in the know let me have a sip of theirs. I’m not an all-pumpkin, all-the-time person, so I don’t quake in my Uggs when pumpkin beers start hitting the shelves, which is usually around the Fourth of July. I’m also an adherent of #FBFD (Fall Beer Freedom Day), meaning that I don’t drink fall beers until after Labor Day. I’m usually good for one pumpkin beer each year, and it usually plays out with me ordering a pumpkin beer, taking a sip, saying “Oh yeah, that’s what pumpkin beers taste like,” and then not touching another pumpkin beer until the next year. All that being said, I do like Gordgeous and it is usually the one pumpkin beer I try each year. You may have read elsewhere in the blog about how I’ve lost my taste for a lot of coffee beers and find they mostly taste like green peppers to me. I don’t think that there is some green pepper infection running rampant through coffee beers, but rather think that’s just how they taste to me a lot of times now. Premium Roast is the exception and I consider it to be one of the best coffee stouts you can find right now, especially locally. Maybe it’s because a lot of coffee stouts I’ve had of late have been aged and maybe the age gives it a green pepper flavor, whereas I’ve only had Premium Roast fresh from the tap. Regardless of the reason, Premium Roast is an outstanding coffee stout. Mixed together with Gordgeous, it makes a creamy, rich, dark brown glass of autumn. This is a beer combo that will pair perfectly with the leaves changing color and a campfire on that first crisp and cool fall night (which will probably be sometime in January at the rate our summer weather is turning into fall weather). 

I was remiss in taking a picture of my Gordgeous/Premium Roast cocktail, but I'm betting you know what a glass of beer looks like. Here is a pumpkin with a glass of beer carved into it instead.

I was remiss in taking a picture of my Gordgeous/Premium Roast cocktail, but I'm betting you know what a glass of beer looks like. Here is a pumpkin with a glass of beer carved into it instead.

Beer Cocktail #3:  Espresso Cloud IPA from Starbucks

Beer: The IPA selection depends on the store

How to Make It: IPA with espresso foam and a shot of citrus-infused espresso on the side

Notable Facts: This cocktail took over a year of development. They also won't let you take it to go (I asked).

The Verdict: I've had coffee IPAs before and have not been terribly impressed. To me, I don't consider the two flavors as blending very well together. However, the citrus-infused espresso surprisingly complemented the IPA well. The beer with the espresso foam ("cloud") on top had a burnt coffee/espresso, roasty aroma  and a nice citrus flavor that seemed pretty tame for what I've come to expect in an IPA. The foam on top, which is made by shaking the espresso with ice, orange peel, and vanilla, smelled nice but looked weird on top of a beer. It was stiff and tasted out of place. I also ended up with a chunk of ice or something in my glass, which was off-putting. I tried the espresso shot by itself to get a feel for what to expect and found it to be roasty with a nice hint of orange.

The barista said most people sip the shot on its own, almost like a chaser, but I poured mine into my beer. The result was visually very cool and akin to pouring a Guinness in that there was a dramatic cascade of bubbles after I poured the shot into the beer. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the shot and the beer mixed together. The result was super smooth and balanced. The Espresso Cloud IPA is only available at Starbucks Evenings locations and only after 4:00 pm. I'm not really one to hang out at Starbucks, so I can't imagine that I'll have the Espresso Cloud IPA very often. Also, drinking coffee in the afternoon always puts me in a weird mood and mixing caffeine and alcohol has to be one of the strangest, most disorienting feelings. 

Stay tuned for the next beer cocktail installment wherein I try to make my own beer cocktails.