(For today’s edition of the beer bloggers Session, Joe and Jasmine at Beer at Joe’s have chosen the topic of beer cocktails. This is a long-time favourite of mine, but since I’m presently overwhelmed with pending story deadlines, I’m going to reprint a piece I originally wrote for the June, 2004, edition of World of Beer, rather than come up with something original. My apologies for the repetition.)
I forget the exact name of the Parisian beer bar I was sitting in when I first noticed the new beer from the Brasserie Duyck, the northern French brewery best known for their Jenlain bière de garde, but the ale itself certainly caught my attention. Packaged in a slick, silver and green aluminum bottle emblazoned with a catchy logo, it advertised itself as a blonde ale flavoured with absinthe. I decided to give it a try.
Despite its obvious positioning as a competitor in the alcopop/club kid market, J Absinthe is a worthy brew, one which beer snobs ignore to their own detriment. True, it’s not built on a backbone of the most characterful blonde ale around, but I felt the addition of the absinthe gave it a very pleasing aniseed flavour which blended well with the sweet maltiness of the base brew. All in all, I’d have to declare it a fairly successful packaging of a beer cocktail.
Of course, perhaps I’m also suffering from a bit of bias in this regard, since beer cocktails have been very much on my mind of late. Because one of the jobs I’ve assigned myself at beerbistro, the downtown Toronto beer cuisine restaurant and bar in which I’m a partner, is the creation of the beer cocktail list, which made its debut with the second printing of the beer menu and is being elaborated upon in the current third edition.
The first time out, we featured a mix of basic beer blends like the ‘Coffee and a Smoke,’ which was a mix of two porters, one flavoured with coffee beans and the other brewed with a portion of peat-smoked malt, and beer and spirits combos, like the Drill Sergeant, which topped up a 300 ml glass of hoppy Sergeant Major IPA with an ounce of Cuban amber rum. The most ambitious cocktail, and one of the most popular, was the Bourbon Black & Tan, a 300 ml blend of oatmeal stout and brown ale fortified with a shot of Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
For the summer, we have gone alternately lighter and more intense. For the patio, we have pitchers of ‘Beer Sangria,’ which is made with a full bottle of Unibroue’s spiced cherry ale, Quelque Chose, and a shot each of two secret spirits, topped with fresh fruit and soda*, while for late night we’re offering the profound flavours of the ‘Any Port in a Storm,’ which blends a full bottle of Victory Brewing’s Storm King Imperial Stout with two ounces of late bottle vintage port. (And thanks to the denizens of the Burgundian Babble Belt for the inspiration to create the latter drink.)
If all of this sounds completely foreign to you, then chances are that you haven’t been in beer bar in France for some time. For the French, such cocktails are second nature, although admittedly they don’t tend to get quite so elaborate in their preparations. Still, walk into any bar or brasserie with a decent beer list and chances are very good that you’ll find a separate listing of beer cocktails.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that I’m a big believer in the art of the beer cocktail, but only so long as the integrity of the component beer or beers is kept in mind when the blend is created. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the brewer’s art and would never dream of belittling the flavour and character of a great beer. But if a wonderful cheese can be equally enjoyed on its own or as a component of a marvellous gastronomic creation, then I can see no reason why the same should not be true of a spiced ale or IPA, whether in the kitchen or at the bar. What I’m after is not a drink that betters the beer, but is parallel in quality and a little bit – sometimes a lot – different.
If you’re still skeptical, then I suggest you find yourself a rich, roasty Imperial stout and blend it with a couple of ounces of good port to make your own ‘Any Port in a Storm.’ Trust me when I say that it’s the kind of cocktail that will make a believer out of almost anyone.
* Since this was originally published, I’ve made public my Beer Sangria recipe, but you’ll have to buy the new beerbistro Cookbook to get it!