After a long struggle to gain mainstream appeal, has the beer cocktail finally reached a tipping point?
Historically, beer-based mixed drinks have been treated as pariahs by the bartending and brewing communities alike. Despite prophecies that beer cocktails were the next frontier in mixology, bars have been hesitant to embrace the union of beer and booze, and patrons seem happy to enjoy both intoxicants on their own merits. But in 2018—with the local craft market at the height of its power—there’s so much to gain by mixing up a locally sourced beer cocktail. And Minneapolis beermakers and distillers are leading the trend to its rightful conclusion.
“People are getting more open to the idea of it,” says Jon Kreidler, co-founder of Tattersall Distilling. “Both brewers and distillers understand that this is the next level.”
Tattersall has been a catalyst in bringing the worlds of Minnesota distilling and brewing closer together. Not only did they recently release a cocktail book including recipes that use local beers, they’ve also partnered with breweries like Surly, Bauhaus, and Indeed to distill beer into liquor.
It’s an effort that extends beyond good marketing practices. According to Kreidler, the beer cocktail’s rise is imminent, but you shouldn’t expect to see cocktail bars dedicating menu columns to them. It’s the “backyard bartender,” he claims, who will spur the ascent. Which is why Tattersall focuses on developing easy-to-mimic recipes instead of trying to persuade upscale joints like Eat Street Social or the Commodore to take on a mixture that’s foreign to their base.
“People are intimidated by craft spirits,” Kreidler adds. “If there’s a way to make [mixing cocktails] easier, we’re going to win. If a beer cocktail is the way to do that, that’s going to be huge.”
Perhaps no one has more to gain from this shift in perception than Bent Brewstillery. Founded in 2014 as the first combination brewery/distillery in Minnesota, Bent has never been allowed to serve both of its products in the same glass. Minnesota law prevents business like Bent and fellow brewstillery Wayzata Brew Works from holding a both a taproom license and a cocktail room license. It’s something co-founder Bartley Blume is lobbying to change, but so far he’s had to depend on bars to show consumers the way.
And that hasn’t really worked.
“The reason I think it hasn’t caught on yet is that some people think of it as gilding the lily,” Blume says. “I can’t really speak for bar owners. Maybe they see a lack of demand. It’s highly possible that they don’t even know that it could be a thing.”
Blume posits that perhaps low-class, fast-chug standbys like the depth charge and Irish car bomb have tarnished the concept of combining beer and liquor. Add in the fact that beer is a much more costly mixer than soda or juice, and bars and restaurants don’t have much to gain by deviating from their norm.
But Blume routinely dashes the line between beer and cocktail. Bent has not only concocted a half-dozen beertail recipes featuring its products, but brought the ethos full circle with StormBringer, a spiced rum aged in the same barrels used to season Dark Fatha imperial stout. At Bent, the quality of the beer informs the quality of the spirit, and vice versa. Now that we’re living in the most mature beer market in Minnesota history, Blume doesn’t see why more people aren’t intermingling the two.
“Beer just opens the door to a whole new dimension of flavor development,” he says. “There are so many different flavors of beer out there now, and there are no mixers out there that taste like beer.”
Of course, distillers are eager bedfellows. Spirits are most commonly enjoyed as part of a mixed drink, so Tattersall and Bent have a lot to gain from widening the scope of liquids that pair well with their their vodkas, gins, whiskies, and liqueurs. But beer is regarded as a finished product. Brewers craft, age, carbonate, and package it to be enjoyed as is, no additions needed. To many beer nerds, even garnishing with a wedge of lime is slander. Stirring in simple syrup and a jigger of triple sec is tantamount to sacrilege.
Still, some Minnesota brewers have leapt at the chance to combine their wares with local craft spirits. Afront the movement has been northeast Minneapolis’ Insight Brewing, whose cocktail-styled seasonals Crazy Aunt and Rowdy Uncle (formulated to taste like a gin and tonic and Moscow mule, respectively) have set new parameters for what brewers can accomplish when they throw Reinheitsgebot to the cocktalian winds.
“Craft beer in the U.S. is making the statement that we don’t have a culture to adhere to,” says Insight co-founder Ilan Klages-Mundt. Klages-Mundt finds no insult in drinkers anointing his creations with a little booze. This month, he partnered with Tattersall to build recipes around Crazy Aunt and Rowdy Uncle and dared consumers to escalate their tallboys. “At the end of the day, if you can make a cocktail with beer in it, and it tastes good, then damn it, you gotta make it.”
On August 5, Insight will invite local bartenders to Palmer’s Bar for Beertail Mania, a “pay-per-brew” event that pits local bartenders against each other in a smackdown for the best beer cocktail. Klages-Mundt sees the event, which is (of course) being co-hosted by Tattersall, as a way to catch up drinkers who might not be up on the booming appeal of beer-booze hybrids.
Klages-Mundt’s advice to attendees: Come with an open mind, because this time the trend’s here to stay.
“The most important part of success is timing,” Klages-Mundt says. “With all these breweries and all the wild and crazy things they’re doing getting accepted, now’s the time for beer cocktails.”
Ok, backyard bartenders: Give beer cocktails a shot with the trio of recipes below.
Xtra Citra Radler
A liqueur-fortified take on the traditional shandy made easy. Included as one of Tattersall’s Cabin Cocktail recipes released this summer.
1 1/2 oz Tattersall Orange Crema
1/4 oz lemon juice
1 can Surly Xtra Citra Pale Ale
Instructions: Crack your beer, take a swig, and pour the juice and booze directly into the can.
Kissin’ the Gunner’s Daughter
If you like a Tom Collins, you’ll revel in this variation built of Bent’s blonde ale.
1 oz Gunner Ghost Navy-Strength Gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/3⅓ oz simple syrup
2 droppers Bittercube Orange Bitters
3 oz Bent Brewstillery Nordic Blonde
Instructions: Build in a collins glass. Add ice. Garnish with an orange peel, expressing the peel atop the cocktail. Then, twist the peel and insert.
Quit Horsin’ Around
Add a grapefruit cordial and orange-almond sweetness, and you’ll never drink a Rowdy Uncle the same way again.
1 oz orgeat syrup
1 oz lime juice
1 oz Tattersall Grapefruit Crema
3 oz Insight Rowdy Uncle
Instructions: Build in a collins glass. Add ice. Add two dashes Angostura bitters, swizzle, and finish with a wheel of lime.