Written by Jay R. Brooks for The Contra Costa Times and Mercury News
Many people reach for Champagne or sparkling wine to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but there’s a growing trend in another bubbly direction: beer cocktails. Originally, a cocktail was just one type of mixed drink, a subset of the genre, such as a julep, flip, swizzle, fizz or toddy. Several cocktail recipes were included in the 1862 “Bar-Tender’s Guide,” and the term took on its more modern meaning over the next few decades.
But it was Prohibition that really led to a surge in popularity of the cocktail. With no legal alcohol to serve, speak-easies had to make do with illegal hooch. Mixing bathtub gin with sweeter, more flavorful additions made the booze more palatable — and probably more profitable.
Scarcities during World War II nearly killed off the grander cocktails, making way for simpler mixed drinks — gin and tonic, for example, and rum and cola. By the 1980s, classic cocktails were nearly as dead as good beer.
But, like many artisan revivals of recent decades, the cocktail has undergone a major renaissance. One of the many innovations of this resurgence is the beer cocktail. Here are just a few examples, both traditional and modern, to whet your appetite.
The beer cocktail concept is not entirely new. The shandy, a mixture of beer and ginger ale or lemonade in equal measure, is a classic, as is the black velvet, a beer-Champagne mix. I like to mix a few drops of cassis, a black currant liqueur, in a dry Irish-style stout, such as Guinness. It gives the stout just a hint of fruitiness. And in college, I was introduced to a drink called a Spodie Odie, which was half beer and sangria; it tasted like fruit punch. (It actually tasted much better than you might expect.)
Modern beer cocktails
But the cocktail renaissance has brought a willingness to experiment. Some mixologists are making beer bloody marys; lagers work best, in my experience. Others offer beermosas for the beer-loving brunch crowd. As the name implies, it’s beer and orange juice. Kölsch works really well for this purpose, as do witbiers and anything not too hoppy. Use dark beer with the O.J., and it’s called a bee sting.
For a michelada, fill a glass of beer with ice; add lemon juice, a dash of soy sauce, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and, finally, a shot of tequila.
Prefer a Skip and Go Naked? That’s beer, lemon juice, gin and a dash of grenadine.
Find more beer cocktails ideas at www.beermixology.com. The website, which features beery recipes from more than a dozen mixologists, was co-created by Bay Area beer writer Ashley Routson, who works for Bison Brewing.
New Novato brewery
If you’re looking for a reason to get out for a few hours during the holidays, consider a visit to the Bay Area’s newest brewery, which opened Dec. 15. Former home-brewer Alan Atha just turned pro with Beltane Brewery, a modest three-barrel nanobrewery and tasting room in Novato.
Beltane (www.beltanebrewing.com) specializes in inventive twists on traditional styles. Atha’s En Suite Saison is a delightfully tart farmhouse ale, and the Meritage Session IPA, which is just 4 percent alcohol by volume, still packs a hop punch. For bigger beers, there’s the Luminesce Triple, a big ester-y beer, and my personal favorite, Rumpelstiltskin, an imperial IPA made with New Zealand hops.