The Beer Cocktail Hit List

Here’s how to order one of the hoppy drinks showing up on menus across the country.

Gin, vodka, tequila, whisky, and rum are the bases for most cocktails. When a bartender in a swanky lounge asks what sort of drink you’re looking for, he’s expecting you to pick from that list. Here’s the catch: One of the best bases isn’t a spirit and isn’t on that roster. Beer cocktails are diverse, drinkable, and perfect for late summer and early fall, when drinkers are demanding something a bit more muscular while trying to stay hydrated.

Hayley Jensen, Beer Sommelier at New York’s Taproom No. 307, is one of the growing crowd of in-the-know East Coast purveyors beefing up their menus with hoppy cocktails. “I think that beer and cider work really well with spirits, and work like really complex mixing ingredients,” she says, noting that even simple beer and shot pairings have become increasingly popular. “People don’t have the brand loyalty to beer & spirit brands that they used to,” she adds. “They enjoy experimenting and trying new things.”

Jensen is particularly fond of the way the citrus notes of Belgium witbiers and the nutty, sweet character of brown ales mix with spirits. That mix is the most important thing. Taking classic cocktails and adding beer as an additional ingredient changes the texture and body of a cocktail. It doesn’t always work (don’t order a beer-tini), but proves memorable when it does. “I love a Manhattan with a little stout reduction, or even just a stout floater,” says Jensen. “ It really enhances the experience for me.”

Here’s how to order a beer cocktail:

The Entry-Level Orders:

Beer-Garita: Pale ale, tequila, lime, fruit beer (cherry or raspberry).

Beer-Hattan: Make a stout reduction by simmering stout and sugar until it takes the consistency of maple syrup. Add this to a Manhattan.

Beer-Sangria: Dice your favorite fruits and marinade them in brandy (overnight is best). Then, take a scoop of the fruit, a handful of ice cubes and add beer. Cherry or raspberry beer for red, belgianwitbier for white.

Ginger Martini: Gin, ginger liqueur, lemon juice and Belgian golden ale.

The DIY Approach:

Wheat beers: Belgian Witbiers and German Hefeweizens are light and flavorful and mix well with fruit flavors like orange, lemon and others. If you like a Greyhound, just have the bartender pour it into a tall glass of the Low Country stuff. 

Amber and brown ales: The malty, bready flavors of these beers work well with drinks that contain bourbon and rye. If the bartender doesn’t have any suggestions, have him pour an Old-Fashioned into something simple like a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale.

Sour Ales: Flemish reds, browns, gosers, berlinerweisses and lambics are strong enough to mix with punchier liquors. If you tell the bartender at the sort of establishment that serves these more complex, harder to come by flavors that you want a cocktail, he’ll be able to work it out for you.

Stouts and Porters: The dark, earthy flavors work well in strong, bourbon cocktails. Honestly, you can just pour a shot in a chocolate stout and you’re good to go.

IPAs: The taste overpowers any alcohol you add. Stay away.