Beer’s pretty fine stuff, if you ask me. It has that great combination of sweet and bitter, a modest amount of alcohol (so you can drink a lot of it), and bubbles, which are never a bad thing. It’s so simple: Open, pour, enjoy.
Then why mess with the easy pleasure of a tall, cool one by adding other ingredients? Because the results can be eye-openingly delicious. Call them beer cocktails, fettlers, cerveza preparada (prepared beer), or “just something I whipped up”—they’re a great alternative to summer’s more expected concoctions.
I started messing around with adding things to beer when I was in college. The cheap draft beer that was all we could afford tasted a lot better with a dose of ginger ale (I didn’t know it then, but I was making what was essentially a Shandy).
My beer cocktails have gotten more sophisticated since then, but not a lot. They’re intrinsically simple drinks. Because of the carbonation you can’t shake them—just stir gently. And you want to keep the ingredient list short so you don’t hide the character of the beer.
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There are three ways to make a beer cocktail, and I have here some of my favorite versions of each.
Style One: Beer plus mixers
You can enhance the beer with small amounts of nonalcoholic mixers, like fresh citrus juice, hot sauce, or spices. The Germans add a dollop of raspberry syrup to a piercingly tart Berliner Weisse beer. The simple Chelada, which hails from Mexico, features a light lager with a squeeze of fresh lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. For a spicier, more robust version with soy, Worcestershire, and hot pepper sauces, check out the Michelada.
Style Two: Combine two beers
Another option is to combine two beers that play well together. Guinness stout is a classic base for beer cocktails, as in the Black and Tan, which blends the burnt black bitterness of a stout, usually Guinness, with the smoother maltiness of a pale ale. In the Peach Melba Cocktail, inspired by the classic dessert, I followed this idea and poured two fruit lambic beers together for a sweet, effervescent apéritif.
Style Three: Beer plus spirits
You can also boost your beer with the intense flavors and aromas of spirits or other alcoholic beverages, as in the elegant Black Velvet (Guinness mixed fifty-fifty with Champagne). My version, Eve’s Black Heart, mixes rich, dark Guinness with crisp, dry hard cider and a float of Calvados, or apple brandy. It’s a knockout.
With the craft beer revolution in full swing and an exciting array of Belgian and British beers now available here, the options for creating new beer cocktails seem almost infinite. All it takes is imagination, a good beer store, a few adventurous friends, and a long afternoon to experiment. Pick out a few beers in varying styles (light lagers, brown ales, hoppy IPAs, dark stouts), have plenty of glassware on hand, some mixers, and ice, and you’ve got the ingredients for a new kind of cocktail party that’ll have you mixing into the night.