Beer Cocktails 101

Beer Cocktails 101
May 9, 2016 Trevor Kailles


One of the first written records of mixing beer into a ‘cocktail’ was in the late 1600’s and it took the form of a flip. In 1690 a popular rhyme was passed around early America’s taverns:


‘The Days are short, the weather’s cold

By Tavern fires tales are told.

Some ask for dram when first come in.

Others with flip and bounce begin.’


After two decades the Flip’s popularity bordered on mania and would remain for more than a century. One Hundred fifty years with the Flip being the mixture of choice.


To make this drink, a tavern keeper starts with a larger pewter pitcher or vessel. Filled it with 2/3 strong beer or mead, adds some kind of sweetening agent – molasses, sugar, dried fruit or pumpkin (or whatever else was at hand). Then came a healthy dose of rum (5-10oz). This mixture was neither stirred nor shaken. They would take a loggerhead (a long steel rod with a ball on one end that resembles a trailer hitch) that was heated to be glowing red hot. The loggerhead would normally be used for heating tar or pitch, but this application was only slightly different. It would be directly taken from the coals and placed directly into the liquid mixture. The whole thing would boil and hiss and foam and then settle into a mightly head. The flip would result in a bitter, slightly burned taste.


So, though we are doing things in a slightly different fashioned in the early 21st century, our ingredients haven’t changed a whole lot. The use of beer in the Flip class of cocktail has very much gone away, and the addition of egg happened in the late 19th century.


Keeping on the concept of the beer cocktail, there are many examples most of us could name off the top of our heads –

Beer cocktails are nothing more than adding ‘extras’ to traditional beer styles to obtain additional flavors, bring out subtleties in the drink or create an entirely new drink altogether.


Some examples?

Black & tan – Guinness & Pale Ale

Snake Bite – Lager & Cider

Crown Float – Cider & Guinness

The Iceberg was created by the Earls group in the late 90’s, Adding lime slush to a lager, this led to many different ‘additions’ on their end, resulting in some comical creations – the peach pudding (bellini slush into winter pudding ale – gross – to name one).


Most of those are simple 2 beer concoctions, or nothing more that adding fruit to a lager or other. The Shandy or traditional Radler are two more of these 2 ingredient concoctions.


A cocktail in my mind is not a cocktail without a bit more to it.

The definition of a cocktail is Spirit, bitter, sugar, water.


The Michelada – a Caesar or Mary with added tequila and lager

The sleepy Russian – an oz of vodka sneaked into the pint of a friend outside for a cigarette or bathroom break


As cocktails continue to break out of their classic DNA, bartenders are using beer much more frequently in their mixtures. Although this technique as we already know is nothing new or groundbreaking. We aren’t re-inventing the wheel here, only re-discovering it. But why use beer in a cocktail? For a number of reasons: Beer is already flavourful – from beer you can get malt, citrus, bitterness, sweetness and sour. If can be used as a primary or a modifier. Beer is carbonated – allows for the addition of effervescence while still keeping ABV higher than if soda was added.


My first experience in the beer cocktail realm came from a challenge from Jay Jones – Use Guinness as a primary mixer in a cocktail.

My Answer:

‘Winter Vacation’

The Famous grouse whiskey, maple syrup, chocolate bitters & Guinness. The mixture was shaken and strained over ice and served in an old fashioned glass with a rim of crushed walnuts & honey.


So even 5 years ago, we were playing with Beer cocktails on our menus.

Other examples of Beer cocktails I’ve played with over the years:


8 ½ (created for the opening of Cinema Public House 2011)

Ketel one vodka, pink grapegruit juice, bitters, simple syrup, stella artois


The interesting thing that comes out of this history of beer cocktails for me is that I didn’t even realize that this was growing into an underground trend throughout cocktail meccas in the US.

Portland bartender Ezra Johnson-Greenough and Beer Store owner Yetta Vorobik have combined to create a company called ‘Brewing Up Cocktails’ Together, they have created some award winning cocktails and during Vancouver Craft beer week hosted a night of Beer Cocktails or ‘Boch-tails’ and a total tap-takeover from Ninkasi brewing (portland’s own)


Some of their cocktails included:

Caip-beer-inha – a ninkasi total domination ipa infused Brazillian classic

Genever believer – zwack bitter liqueur with agave, genever & ninkasi believer double red ale


Of course it wouldn’t be a guest bartending shift without some on the fly creations of the host bartender (challenge accepted):


Hendrick’s gin, Chartreuse, honey syrup, fresh orange mixed with the Ninkasi ‘Total domination’ IPA


Streets Ahead 

Red Stag cherry bourbon, Phillips phoenix gold lager, lemon juice and ginger beer


Another new concept I’ve been toying with –  The Breakfast Beer Cocktail.

BBC1 (Breakfast Beer Cocktail #1)

Maker’s Mark bourbon, Fernet Branca, cold brew coffee, egg, pale ale

bbc1(photo credit Fred Fung)

BBC2 (Breakfast Beer Cocktail #2)

Tanqueray gin, Cointreau, Kronenbourg blanc, orgeat syrup, orange bitters, fresh orange


Breakfast Ale

New York Distilling Dorothy Parker gin, celery & cucumber juice, lime juice, celery bitters, sugar, Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

Breakfast Ale (photo credit Fred Fung)

Time will tell if the popularity of the Beer Cocktail will grow from trend to staple in the World’s best bars. A few things to note – the Death & Co Cocktail book listed their ‘Noble Hops’ list of cocktails that include beer as mixers or ingredients. Leo Robitschek of Make It Nice group (Nomad, Eleven Madison Park – NYC) recent took stage with Lynette Marrero (Speed Rack) & Elayne Duff  (Former Luxury Ambassador & Head Mixologist for Diageo, current Global Event Manager o Experiential Marking for AB-INBEV) at Tales of the Cocktail Mexico City and did a full hour presentation on ‘Perfectly Poured Beer Cocktails.’ Jacob Grier also published the first book covering the subject in 2015 entitled: Cocktails in Tap.


Something tells me it will be a long summer of beer in cocktails.