“Beer Cocktail”: Oxymoron? Or Overlooked Classic with Crossover Potential?

Say the two words together, consecutively – “beer cocktail” – and some people might look at you like you have two heads. However, certain beer cocktails, whether explicitly labeled as such or not, have been popular for years. What’s more, the trend for developing new types of beer cocktails – increasingly popular everywhere from the United States to as far away as
Australia – may be a profitable opportunity that bar owners and managers would be remiss to ignore in 2014.

Hidden Potential in Plain Sight

Many of the same folks who turn their noses up at the phrase “beer cocktail” have unthinkingly, in fact, been ordering one classic beer cocktail for decades: the black and tan (a cocktail of two beers, typically a stout or porter mixed with a pale ale or lager). The same patrons might also occasionally be perfectly game for a michelada – which is simply beer and lime juice mixed with a variety of sauces, spices, and peppers, served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass. The notorious “Irish car bomb,” prepared by dropping a shot glass of an Irish whiskey/Irish cream liqueur mixture into a mug of Guinness before downing the whole concoction, has been on bar menus for years. The “snake bite” – which is one half lager or stout and one half hard cider (plus a splash of other optional ingredients), long rumored to have unique intoxicating properties – may be reserved for the growing minority who have developed a taste for this alcoholic beverage made from fermented apples, but the drink is not exactly new. And those who have tried more exotic alcoholic beverages might also be familiar with the “shandy,” which is a mixture of beer with something sweet, carbonated or not (mixers range from apple juice to ginger beer and everything in between).

Marketing is Key

Given the existence of so many beer cocktails already, how far of a stretch is it, really, to have a menu that also offers a cocktail dubbed the “Honeydew Hefeweizen Smoothie” (Hefeweizen with honeydew melon and vanilla extract and ice cream) or a “Weissen Sour” (white ale with bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and orange bitters and marmalade)? The answer to that question may very well be in the eye of the beerholder, but how these items are marketed on the menu could make all the difference. Simpler classics like the black and tan, after all, might maintain their traditional following by staying right where they are on the menu – but they might also benefit from being additionally cross-listed with newer, more adventurous mixtures on a special “beer cocktails” menu. Do that, and you’re targeting two audiences at once – encouraging michelada/black and tan patrons to consider other beer cocktails just outside their comfort zones (and for a larger markup, at your discretion), while also catching the eye of cocktail enthusiasts who don’t normally enjoy the taste of beer but are always interested in trying new combinations (especially ones with interesting names).

Classics with an Imaginative Twist

The wide variety of beer cocktails can spark the imagination of anyone reading a menu, partly because they often boast of both recipes and names inspired by more traditional cocktails. For instance, one cocktail is merely a variation on a “Moscow mule,” which typically contains vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer; in this case, the main twist on the classic recipe is to substitute alcoholic ginger beer for the non-alcoholic version it would normally contain. There are also beer-friendly variations on the “old fashioned,” as well as a number of updated, more adventurous variations on classic beer cocktails such as the above-mentioned michelada and black and tan.

Of course, herbs like basil or shots of rum, gin, and whisky, etc. are not at all out of the question as possible ingredients in beer cocktails – and neither are fruits and juices like mango, peach, etc., as the above-referenced Weissen Sour and Honeydew Heffeweizen Smoothie demonstrate. Champagne can be found in beer cocktails, too, as can applejack and other fruity liqueurs, syrups, and extracts – and even egg whites, sugar, marmalade, and apple cider vinegar. Recipes for beer cocktails (the “In Fashion,” among other cleverly named drinks) – along with others that have recently been served at bars in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, and elsewhere – may be found here and here. What other beer cocktails does your imagination have on tap?

Josh Saunders
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