Beer cocktails: ‘It’s about having fun’
It’s enough to make an ale drinker’s beard turn white. Beer cocktails? Even to the more open-minded drinker, it sounds a far-fetched idea: cocktails and beer don’t always comfortably share the same bar space, let alone the same glass – but things are changing. A trend that began in the US has skipped daintily across the Atlantic as brewers and bar owners look for new ways to get the most out of hops and malt. And no amount of tutting from old school brown-beer men will change that.
That said, it’s unlikely they’re going to come into contact with beer cocktails, for now at least. At present they’re confined to a few of the more self-consciously progressive drinking holes: Brewdog’s bar in Camden is among those hawking beer cocktails in the capital, for example. A quick look at the six cocktails on offer there confirms we’re a long way from lager shandy territory: the ‘Hardcore Zombie’ (right), for example, is a mixture of Brewdog’s punchy Hardcore IPA, Sailor Jerry’s rum, ginger beer and fresh lime.
And then there’s the Brooklyn Baltic, a cocktail dreamt up not in the sweaty heart of London’s Britpop district but somewhere rather further north: Leeds’ North Bar, to be exact. It might seem strange – to those not acquainted with the city – to think that Yorkshiremen would happily sip beer cocktails, but that would ignore the change in attitude that has taken place since North Bar opened almost 15 years ago. “The cocktail scene has taken off in Leeds over the past few years,” says the manager of North Bar, Matt Gorecki. “It has changed – when North Bar first opened people walking past would open the door and shout ‘you bunch of f***ing gays!’ because Leeds was all about pubs. It has become a lot more cosmopolitan.”
That, says Gorecki (right), ensured a warm welcome when North Bar started selling beer cocktails over a year ago – which was, he admits, a bit of a disappointment. “Initially we did it to cause a bit of a stir, maybe to upset a few purists and get people talking about it,” he says. “We though people in the beer world would be resistant – but it turned out that it wasn’t as groundbreaking as we thought it was going to be! People took it to their hearts.”
But why, some will no doubt think, do you need beer cocktails? Surely if you have a good beer, it’s a shame to mess with it? Not at all, Gorecki says. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t play with beer and have fun with it,” he says. “It does introduce a certain group of people to beer and breaks down the boundaries. Drinking is supposed to be fun and when people take it too seriously, it loses that. It’s about having fun!”
That’s the approach required, you’d have to say, to come up with something like the Brooklyn Baltic. Gorecki recently posted the recipe at beermixology.com, an American website devoted to beer cocktails. The Brooklyn Baltic is a mixture of the Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, Kahlua, Frangelico and Maldon Sea Salt. “It’s our most popular cocktail by a long way,” Gorecki says. “It’s got flavours like chocolate, coffee, hazelnuts, and the salt rim, which is crucial: it’s very much about the [salt] garnish.”
For those looking to experiment with beer cocktails, Gorecki has a few tips. “Strong beers work well,” he says. ”We’re just about to do a new cocktail list. We’ve made some with wheat beers, and made some with IPAS – and we’ve found that they [IPAs] work really well, the stronger ones especially. We’ve got a 6 per cent, hoppy IPA, and we’re mixing that with rosemary and macerated hops.
“[The reason to use stronger beers is that they] have a fuller flavour – it’s a trade off because you want to get the best things out of the beer – you want to taste the malt and the hops – but you’re adding spirits, bitters too. It’s about getting something out of each ingredient, to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Nonetheless, it appears there are some things you can’t do with beer – like making a dry cocktail. Gorecki says all of the cocktails North Bar serve are sweeter than the beers they were made with. “They do tend to be,” he says. “It’s difficult to make a really nice dry cocktail with beer – but if you want that, just have a martini! The fruity and hoppy elements of beer are interesting, that’s what works.”
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