Cherry Heering in Beer Cocktail



Beer cocktails: Preconceptions shaken and stirred

By Special to MIX



Good beer, it can be pretty easily argued, is perfect and complete by itself. It’s complex and flavorful and doesn’t need anything else … except that a band of intrepid young mixologists see good beer as a starting point for something better — beer cocktails.

Straight-ahead beer fan that I am, I have to agree that beer cocktails open up a brave new world. I recently got to taste and talk about beer cocktails with some of Portland’s most ardent proponents: mixologist Jacob Grier, New School blogger Ezra Johnson-Greenough and Yetta Vorobik, owner of the Hop & Vine, where Grier and Johnson-Greenough held an event in the summer called Brewing Up Cocktails. They plan to repeat it this month, also at the Hop & Vine.

Though beer has often enough been mixed with lemonade and citrus juices for shandies and radlers, and tomato juice or V8 juice for the red beer that tastes so good the morning after, beer as an ingredient in cocktails is relatively rare. The few exceptions, such as a Bavarian cocktail of dark Weizen beer, cola and cherry schnapps or the all-American Boilermaker — a shot of whiskey dropped into a mug of factory lager — prove the rule that the beer cocktail is Terra Incognita for most of us.

“I think that may be because beer is still thought of in some quarters as the pale yellow stuff that comes out of the one or two taps that a bar may have,” said Grier, who was bar manager for the late Carlyle Restaurant and is now brand ambassador for the Jacob Bols company. Both Grier and Johnson-Greenough are well-versed enough in the beer world to know that it makes a perfect ingredient for almost any flavor profile imaginable.

The Brewers Association currently lists well more than 100 different styles of beer, everything from tart, pale Berliner Weissbiers to rich, black, roasty stouts and countless variations between. Add the Beervanan tendency to barrel-age and blend sour beers, or to brew one-off special beers with herbs and botanicals as Upright Brewing is wont to do, and you have a vast array of flavors to pair, contrast and resonate with the spirits, liqueurs, syrups and bitters in the adventurous cocktailian’s armamentarium.

“Everybody’s making cocktails with pretty much the same choice of ingredients,” said bartender Christian Rouillier of Cassidy’s, “but when you use beer as an ingredient, you’re adding a whole new dimension.”

“I started playing with beer cocktails,” Grier said, “after attending a seminar in New Orleans two years ago by Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont, about seeing beer as an ingredient instead of the drink itself. He made a cocktail there called a Green Devil that combined the aromatics of gin and absinthe with the big, foamy head of Duvel (Belgian ale) to make a fantastic drink.”

Ross William HamiltonAt North Portland’s Hop & Vine, beer isn’t relegated to a pint glass. Yetta Vorobik puts beer cocktails, like Choke Van Roy, Dutch Devil and Quattro Blanco in martini and wine glasses, as well as Champagne flutes.

The version they made at the first Brewing Up Cocktails — and which can be found on The Hop & Vine drinks menu — is called the Dutch Devil: Duvel, Bols Genever (a malt-based ancestor of Dutch gin), Angostura bitters and a sugar cube, topped with a sprig of crystallized ginger. “I definitely want to keep a beer cocktail on our menu,” Vorobik said, “and it’s fun conspiring with these guys to come up with new flavors.”

Beer Cocktails Spoken Here:

The Hop & Vine
1914 N. Killingsworth St. (They’re planning another beer cocktail event this month.)

Beaker & Flask
720 S.E. Sandy Blvd.

Cassidy’s Restaurant and Bar
1331 S.W. Washington St.

1303 N.E. Fremont St.

Clyde Common
1014 S.W. Stark St.

Brewing Up Cocktails included four other beer cocktails, the most complex and beer-centric of which was the Cascadian Revolution, which was based on Deschutes Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale:

  • To 3 ounces of ale they added
  • 1/2 ounce of Grand Marnier
  • 1/6 ounce of Clear Creek Eau de Vie flavored with Douglas fir, stirred with ice and strained into a martini glass and topped with the secret weapon, a tiny drop of super-potent hop oil.

“We played around with that one for a while,” said Ezra Johnson-Greenough. “It was the hardest to create, because we wanted to preserve the hoppiness. We added the Grand Marnier to bring back some of the citrus quality, but the hop oil really brought it into focus.”

Johnson-Greenough is also an artist (a painter and graphics designer), and the blending and mixing to create something new appeals to his artistic sensibilities. He first sampled beer cocktails when Grier and bartender Neil Kopplin came up with a beer cocktail event called NovemBEER Cocktails, which was held a year ago at Cassidy’s as a fundraiser for the Oregon Bartenders Guild.

“People were really curious about these drinks,” said Grier. “It wasn’t just beverage industry insiders who were interested, either — most of the crowd was the general public.”

Shortly after, Johnson-Greenough was in San Francisco for SF Beer Week and happened on The Alembic, a beer-and-spirits house in the Haight, which features a different beer cocktail each day of beer week. The sheer audacity of some of the blends — fino sherry, Cherry Heering, ginger brandy and Stone Ruination IPA, for one — impelled him to put together Brewing Up Cocktails with Grier.

Other Portland barkeeps are intrigued by beer cocktails, including Acadia’s bar manager, Jabriel Donohue. “They’re fun,” he said. “I’ve always viewed beer as an integral part of cocktail culture and I think it’s hugely underrated.” Donohue did his part to reverse that with a drink he whomped up for NovemBEER Cocktails and hopes to have on the Acadia menu soon enough, the Ursus Rodeo. That’s made of :

  • 1 ounce of Alameda Black Bear Imperial Stout
  • 1 ounce of 8 Seconds Canadian Whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce of Drambuie
  • 1/4 ounce of Grand Marnier
  • a dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters, shaken vigorously and served up with an orange twist.

He also won second Crowd Favorite with the drink in a Drambuie contest.

Donohue said cocktails were best described to him as a condiment: “I’m looking for layers — I want the cocktail to happen in a couple of waves,” he said. “I’m more of a purist, instead of deconstructing a beer for its component flavors, I like to use what I’m given — I’d love to make a drink with one of Upright Brewing’s beers because they’re so layered.

“I’d want to pair it most delicately because I don’t want to mess with it,” he said as he thought through a recipe. “I’d want to use something with high alcohol, I’d want to avoid adding anything too sugary, because I don’t want to muddy it up — the beer would be the primary base so I wouldn’t want to shake it. It’d be incredible to use Upright’s Six (a dark rye beer) with the recently released 84-proof Galliano …”

Cassidy’s Rouillier and Kopplin of Clyde Common also like beer for its fizz: “I like the carbonation for the texture it adds to a drink,” Rouillier said. “It adds a sort of silkiness like Champagne does.” He and Kopplin took that observation to make what they called a Flemish 75 — a French 75 with Duvel ale instead of Champagne, Aviation gin and lemon.

“It’s a barley pop,” Kopplin said. “It’s a soda with more interesting flavors.” He’s pursued the fizz in what he calls a Portland 75: House Spirits White Dog corn whiskey, fresh lime and Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a nod to the Portland hipster’s favorite pint. He usually picks a somewhat more substantial beer, however, and is interested in working with local brewers in coming up with new cocktails. “You want to be playful and have fun with it,” he said, “but the drink needs to taste like beer because you don’t want to disrespect what the brewer’s given you.”

Ross William Hamilton

Over in the Southeast Cocktail District, the folks at Beaker & Flask have a traditional-with-a-twist take on beer cocktails: shandies and a new menu of boilermakers made with mini shots of cocktails such as Manhattan, Remember the Maine and Blood & Sand. “We’ve always tried to do something with beer,” said owner Kevin Ludwig. “We’re known for our cocktails, but we’ve got six taps and we’re steadily building our beer business — when we opened this place, we wanted to embrace all drinking: beer, wine, cocktails and coffee.”

The Beaker boilermakers allow bartenders to premix and chill batches of cocktails. Customers get a shot of the chosen cocktail in a small, frozen shot glass and a pint mug of beer. “People drop the shot in their own glass and they love it,” said Ludwig. “It’s fun, it foams up and spills a bit on the bar, but we’re trying to have fun with it and not be so serious.”

Legal Notice   |   Log in to graphic guideline