Versatile and affordable, beer cocktails are emerging at backyard barbecues and on local drink menus more and more. Consisting of primarily beer, a distilled beverage and often an additional spirit, beer cocktails are lighter versions of cocktails with just as many interesting and tasty options.
Because beer is the primary ingredient in these innovative cocktails, the alcohol content is usually lower than in a common cocktail. With so many different varieties and combinations of beer cocktails, flavor and quality aren’t compromised for the reduced alcohol content. As the weather becomes warmer and summer approaches, beer cocktails may seem even more desirable as a light, refreshing beverage in the Colorado heat.
According to Terry Morton, owner of the Hungry Toad, beer cocktails originate from Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. Morton says he opened and named the Hungry Toad in north Boulder after his original Hungry Toad in London. By serving a wide variety of English pub fare and beer, Morton says, he carried the tradition of beer cocktails across the Atlantic to his Boulder pub.
“Most of our eight beer cocktails on the menu can be found in any English pub,” Morton says. “The black and tan is our most popular beer cocktail at the Hungry Toad.”
A blend between pale ale and dark beer like a stout or porter, a black and tan is said to have originated in British pubs when drinkers would order a dark stout and draught bitter mix. Historically, the term “black and tan” has described a certain canine coat pattern, the parliamentary reserves during the Irish War of Independence, and, recently, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.
Morton says that he decided to start featuring beer cocktails on the Hungry Toad’s drink menu because the eight featured cocktails are tried-and-tested combinations of beer and other beverages like soda and liquor.
Morton says the shandy is a popular summer drink because it’s so refreshing that it can be consumed quickly and easily.
“Shandys are made in cans and bottles in Europe,” Morton says. “I grew up with shandys in London.”
A mixture of pale ale beer and lemon-lime soda or lemonade, the shandy is nearly as common in England as it is in German-speaking regions, where it’s called the radler, which means “cyclist.”
It’s said that the radler was developed in Germany for mountain-climbing cyclists who needed a balanced refreshment with nutritious fortification after a long climb up a mountain road in the hot weather, but who also needed the sobriety and endurance to ride home.
With an alcohol content of 2.4 to 2.6 percent by volume, the radler and shandy are designed for basic health and recreational activity benefits.
Morton says he doesn’t anticipate adding other beer cocktails to the Hungry Toad’s drink menu but that it’s a lot of fun experimenting with different flavors and combinations. “There are no rules to beer cocktails — we tend to try something and go with it,” Morton says.
One fun item featured at the Hungry Toad that adds a new spin to beer cocktails is the Guinness float. Served like a root beer float, a Guinness float consists of a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of Guinness and topped with chocolate liqueur.
“It’s like an adult mud pie,” Morton says. At the West End Tavern on Pearl Street, beer cocktails also grace this American-style tavern’s drink menu. General Manager Mike Lawinski says the West End Tavern serves seasonal beer cocktails and modifies beer with different liqueurs.
“You don’t find many beer cocktails around Boulder, which is why we highlight them on our menu,” Lawinski says. “They’re delicious.”
Lawinski says that shandys are generally popular at the Tavern during the summer, and they will often serve them through their frozen slushy machines at their rooftop deck bar.
“Trying a beer cocktail, even a simple shandy, is an adventure for some people,” Lawinski says.
“Other people are all about experimenting with beer and other flavors because they know it’s good — we play with beer a lot.”
The West End Tavern will feature a sweeter beer cocktail this summer. Called the Rusty Bus, this luscious combination of Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery, chocolate liqueur and maraschino cherries is named after Banjo Billy’s Bus, an old school bus decked out like a hillbilly shack that tours Boulder. Lawinski says Banjo Billy will be doing a beer tour this summer and will promote the Tavern’s Rusty Bus beer cocktail. “The Rusty Bus has sweeter notes of German chocolate cake,” Lawinski says. “Beer cocktails in frozen and glass form will be present on our summer menu.” He says he encourages all semi-adventurous beer fans to come in and try a beer cocktail.
What is called a beer cocktail could also be called mixology, the study and skill of preparing mixed drinks. More than just pouring and serving a drink, mixology is the art of creating new cocktails, much like a chef would create new appetizers, entrées or desserts.
While people have been modifying drinks for decades, it has only recently turned into an art of using fresh vegetables, fruits, spices and other creative flavors in the same way they are used for cooking. Boulder’s Bitter Bar, located inside the Happy Noodle House, employs the art of mixology in its cocktail creation practice. Bitter Bar mixology artist Nick Kropp says drink mixology uses the same concepts a chef would use to cook, breaking down a beverage to its taste, feel and acids. Kropp says that because beer has already been crafted, it’s not often that people order a beer cocktail at the Bitter Bar, but the idea of mixing beer with other flavors embraces the idea of mixology to its fullest.
“Our mixology training occurs every day behind the bar — it requires a passion and innovation to mix and blend different flavors, spirits and exotic liqueurs,” Kropp says.
CU-Boulder student Chase LaPointe says he started making beeritas, margaritas made with margarita mix, lime and beer, as opposed to tequila, after he tasted the combination at a coworker’s barbecue. “Beer adds flavor and carbonation without all the sugar,” LaPointe says. “It’s also cheaper to use beer instead of tequila for margaritas.”
LaPointe says beer cocktails are a fashionable way to make beer taste better. “Beer cocktails are modern, relaxing drinks — beer’s flavor and fizz add a new mix to any cocktail,” he says.
Try these beer cocktail recipes at home, or try your own combinations for a fresh, new beer cocktail:
Black and Tan: 1 Bass pale ale 1 Guinness stout Fill glass half full with Bass. Slowly pour Guinness over a spoon until glass is full. If poured correctly, the Guinness will stay on top and the Bass will rest on the bottom. Then you’ll visually understand its name, Black and Tan.
Mix stout and champagne or sparkling wine in a champagne flute, half and half.
Mix a pale ale and tomato juice, half and half. Add a dash of Tabasco and a dash of Worcestershire. Spicy V8 can also be used instead of adding Tabasco and Worcestershire.