“What’ll it be?” says the bartender. Your eyes frantically dart back and forth between the beer list and cocktail menu, as they’ve done for the last five minutes. They have that local IPA you love, but the barrel-aged Old-Fashioned is calling your name. Plus, there’s a rare stout from 2012 on tap, and that guy at the end of the bar just got a mojito garnished with a watermelon wedge. Was that even on the menu?
If this scenario has ever played out in your head, you’re certainly not alone. But bars are now incorporating beer into their cocktail recipes while breweries are making beers based on familiar drinks, so happy hour just got a little easier—and tastier.
Tap and Barrel, a Smithtown craft beer bar that just celebrated its sixth birthday, has over 50 rotating taps serving everything from local IPAs to Belgian triples. Owner Anthony Celentano knows that despite his best efforts beer is not everyone’s first choice, so they also offer cocktails, wine and even nitro cold brew.
About four years ago, it was an exceptionally slow winter night at the bar. Instead of spending the evening refreshing Facebook to kill time, Celentano and his bartenders started experimenting. The result was three beer-based cocktails: a blueberry beer mojito, a raspberry lambic cosmo and a stout-based coffee drink.
Though this was their first official foray into beer cocktails, they’d actually been working the idea since they opened. Instead of car (or Jaeger) bombs, Tap and Barrel opted to serve stouts with a chilled shot of Café Patron. This wasn’t for lack of supplies—it was all in the name of taste.
“There are some great mixologists out there with a lot of complicated drinks. The nice thing about working with beer in cocktails is we’re able to keep it super simple,” says Celentano. In lieu of mixers consisting of syrup and some seltzer water, they opt for beers that have layers of flavor on their own. The end result is complex and even appealing to non-beer drinkers.
Still, occasionally patrons will hear there’s beer in the cocktail and quickly say, “Oh, I don’t like beer. I’ll just get something else.” But nine times out of 10 when they try it, they like it and will then sample the beer on its own. “People sometimes assume all beer tastes like a golden or blonde ale. When they have something fruity or chocolatey, it’s more approachable,” says Celentano.
If you want to try your hand at beer cocktail mixology, here is the recipe for one of Tap and Barrel’s new summer drinks—the Beer Colada.
- 6 oz. Maui Brewing Co. Pineapple Mana Wheat
- 1 oz. canned pina colada mix
- 1 oz. white rum
Pour the pineapple wheat beer over ice, then shake an ounce of piña colada mix with ice and pour over the beer. Top with an ounce of white rum and garnish with a pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry. It’s almost as easy as just opening a beer.
Looking for something more on the savory side? Try a Bloody Mary Gose. Yes, you read that right. As beer is becoming more welcome in cocktails, Paul Dlugokencky, Blind Bat Brewery’s owner/brewer, turned to a well-known mixed-drink flavor for brewing inspiration.
“It’s the first time I’ve set out to brew something that is evocative of something else,” says Dlugokencky, noting that his smoked beers do sometimes elicit bacon comparisons. Blind Bats repertoire consists of everything from a Long Island Smoked Oyster Stout—brewed with actual oysters—to a honey and basil ale, so he’s not exactly a stranger to unique ingredients. However, this was uncharted territory.
“Music doesn’t stay the same, the culinary world doesn’t stay the same, we’re a variety-seeking species. We see something new or a little different and a lot of people just want to try it,” says Dlugokencky. He sees this as a chance to introduce people to a new style of beer, if not beer in general. “People may have never heard of a gose, but they like Bloody Mary’s so they’ll give it a shot.”
The gose style—a lemony sour, light beer that is brewed with salt—is often a canvas for flavor additions through hops, fruit or even fermentation. Instead of throwing tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and celery into his fermenters, Dlugokencky opted for a less messy option—spices. As owners of Crimson & Clove spice company—and fans of Bloody Marys, beer and Blind Bat Brewery—we briefly injected ourselves into the story to help craft a blend for the brew.
The trick for Dlugokencky was brewing something reminiscent of the cocktail without mimicking it. As he aptly stated, “If you’re going to reproduce it 100 percent, just have a Bloody Mary.” Instead of a rich, tomato-forward cocktail, the Bloody Mary Gose is light and citrusy with savory undertones and a slightly spicy finish. You certainly wouldn’t kick it off a brunch table.
Next time you’re prepping a pitcher of homemade margaritas, ditch the sour mix and throw in a citrus beer instead. Or crack open a rye ale flavored with allspice, lemon peel, cinchona bark and tart cherries—the beer version of a Manhattan. So, what’ll it be: a beer or a cocktail? The answer can be both.