Six Beers Inspired by Classic Cocktails
Nope, not beer cocktails. A growing number of brewers are finding inspiration in the cocktail world, and they’re developing beers that channel the flavors of mixed drinks.
These are more than just conceptual beers. The flavors in many cocktails can complement certain beer types. For example, lighter beers like goses and saisons work well in citrusy cocktails like a Paloma Gose. Meanwhile, a more substantial ale lends itself to amped-up caramel and spice notes, courtesy of a spin in a whiskey barrel.
“We’re at a point in craft beer culture where the consumer is constantly looking for new, innovative beer styles,” says Don Webb, owner/brewer of Seattle’s Naked City Brewing, which based its “Big Lebrewski” stout on the White Russian cocktail. ”With so many new choices in hop varieties, specialty malts, etc. the opportunity has never been better to utilize these classic beer ingredients to create beers that mimic the flavors of many classic cocktails.”
He also cites access to the growing numbers of local craft distillers, who can share barrels that previously held gin, rum, whiskey or other spirits, to age beer.
We tasted six of these whimsical hybrids. Often, the end result is more of a sidelong glance at a cocktail favorite, rather than a faithful replica. But drinkers will delight in the option to try both a Manhattan and a Manhattan-inspired beer, possibly even side by side.
Jump straight to a beer and classic cocktail recipe pairing
Paloma Gose (Schlafly/The Saint Louis Brewery; St. Louis); abv: 4.5%
The German-style ale brewed with grapefruit, lime, coriander and salt meets Mexico’s famed Paloma cocktail. It’s golden and bright in the glass, with a fresh grapefruit-peel scent. It drinks like a classic sour gose. It includes a distinctly mouthwatering saline quality, finishing with refreshing lime acidity. It doesn’t have the sweetness that grapefruit soda provides in the classic cocktail, but it would make a great poolside refresher. Note: Schlafly also makes a Kentucky Mule-inspired ale.
- 6 ounces grapefruit soda, like Jarritos
- 2 ounces Tequila
- 1 lime wedge
In Collins glass, stir together grapefruit soda and Tequila over ice. Squeeze lime wedge if more tartness is desired. Use wedge as garnish.
Note: If grapefruit soda isn’t available, mix grapefruit juice with simple syrup and club soda.
Moscow Mule Ale (Ballast Point Brewing Company; San Diego); abv: 10%
The classic cocktail contains vodka that’s mixed with ginger beer and lime. Here, it’s ale with ginger and lime added. The beer pours very foamy, with a rich honey hue and delicious ginger scent that leaps out of the glass. Ginger also leads the palate, which is a bit funky and honeyed. Serve in copper mugs with a lime wedge garnish, since the lime component is barely detectable.
- 2 ounces vodka
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- 6 ounces ginger beer
Pour vodka into Collins glass or copper mug. Squeeze lime juice into glass, then drop in spent lime shells. Scoop in ice, and stir to chill. Top with ginger beer.
Big Lebrewski White Russian Imperial Stout (Naked City Brewery, Seattle); abv: 9%
Inspired by The Big Lebowski (“I’ve always been a huge fan of classic films,” says Webb) and the White Russian that the central character drinks, this is a bold Imperial Cream Stout aged on Kahlua-soaked French oak staves.
Naked City brews this seasonal beer once a year, releasing it for the brewery’s anniversary in October. It has a deep, coffee-brown hue and classic stout aroma. The flavor profile is rich and warming, with some nuanced coffee and mocha flavor, and it has a distinctly creamy texture. You won’t confuse it with a standard-issue White Russian, but it’s fun and well-recommended.
- 1 ounce vodka
- 1 ounce coffee liqueur, like Kahlua
- 1 ounce cream
Stir together vodka and coffee liqueur in rocks glass filled with ice. Pour cream atop.
This Manhattan-inspired ale, made in conjunction with whiskey-focused bar Longman & Eagle, is particularly exciting. It’s made with cherries, corn in the mash and faux “bitters.” It’s then aged for 18 months in three different rye whiskey barrels (Rittenhouse, Willett and Dad’s Hat Vermouth-Finished Rye). This one might please both beer and whiskey lovers, with its dried sour cherry aroma, malty palate and long, chocolaty finish. It’s especially enjoyable on the rocks with a curl of lemon peel. You know, like a classic Manhattan.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey (or Bourbon if preferred)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Brandied cherry (for garnish)
In mixing glass, stir all ingredients, except garnish, with ice. Strain into coupe glass. Garnish with brandied cherry.
Gin Barrel Fizz (Hi-Wire Brewing; Asheville, NC); abv: 8.15%
This is a saison brewed with juniper berries and aged seven months in a former gin barrel. It arrives in a bottle with Champagne-style cork closure—and it’s fizzy and foamy indeed! Though it’s light brown, unlike a classic gin fizz, it’s plenty citrusy, tart and easy-drinking. There’s even a fleeting caramelized note that suggests grapefruit brûlée. Serve with a wedge of orange or grapefruit to garnish.
- 2 ounces gin
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- ¾ ounce simple syrup*
- ¾ ounce egg whites
- Club soda, to top
- Lemon peel (to garnish)
In cocktail shaker, combine gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg whites without ice. Shake well for at least 1 minute to emulsify egg whites (dry shake). Scoop ice into shaker. Shake briefly, to chill. Strain into Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with club soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with lemon peel.
*Simple syrup: stir together equal parts sugar and hot water until sugar dissolves.
Melt My Brain (Short’s Brewery, Elk Rapids, MI); abv: 4%
Founder Joe Short describes his inspiration for this summer seasonal offering: “On a hot summer day while mowing my lawn, I started thinking about how good a gin & tonic would taste, but then I thought ‘I’m a beer guy, why don’t I try to make a beer inspired by a G&T?’”
The end result? A golden ale brewed with coriander, juniper berries and lime. Tonic water is added, which adds pearly effervescence, rather than classic beer foaminess. It’s light golden in the glass, with a lightly spiced aroma and lime tartness up front. Plunk in an ice cube, and it feels like a summery beer spritz.
- 2 ounces gin
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- Tonic water, to top
- Lime wedge (to garnish)
In Collins glass, stir together first three ingredients with ice. Garnish with lime wedge.
- 1Paloma Gose Beer | Paloma Cocktail
- 2Moscow Mule Ale | Moscow Mule Cocktail
- 3Big Lebrewski Imperial Stout | White Russian Cocktail
- 4Brown & Stirred | The Manhattan Cocktail
- 5Gin Barrel Fizz Saison | Gin Fizz Cocktail
- 6Melt My Brain Ale | Classic Gin & Tonic