There’s BEER in My Cocktail!
By now, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that craft beer is in the midst of an incredible boom. The number of American craft breweries topped 3,000 in the summer of 2014, a threshold that hadn’t been crossed since the 1870s. The majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewery. Craft beer is better, more accessible, and more inventive than it has ever been, and it’s not just for drinking on its own. Craft beer and food pairings are now commonplace, and beer has even become a key ingredient in cocktails. To get to the bottom of the beer cocktail trend, we spoke to a diverse panel of experts, including Rogue Ales President Brett Joyce, Deschutes Brewery Corporate Executive Chef Jeff Usinowicz, and chef and Food Network personality, Emily Ellyn.
Our experts all agreed that the beer cocktail trend is a natural extension of the renewed cultural interest in quality food and drinks. “I find it interesting that it took so long to catch on,” says Rogue’s Joyce. “But it has been amazing to watch the renaissance of the craft cocktail. Whiskey is born from beer. It always seemed obvious to us to use both in a cocktail.” Chef Usinowicz agreed that craft cocktails fit well within the world of craft beer. “All the nuances of craft beers lend themselves to mixing,” he says. “I think it’s awesome that mixologists have stepped up to getting crafty with our craft beers.”
More educated, more demanding
Chef Emily Ellyn compared the mixing of beer and spirits to the beer-with-food pairing phenomenon. “Restaurateurs are pairing these new brews with food and chefs are using the beer as an ingredient in food,” she says. “Why shouldn’t mixologists do the same?” Ellyn explains that bartenders have been upping their games by making very sophisticated craft cocktails and, like chefs, are always looking for inspiration to create something new. “What I find most interesting,” Ellyn continues, “is that [the] focus on food and drink craft—much of which has been celebrated by the media over the last several years—is producing more educated and demanding guests. Yes, these guests are looking for quality, but most of all they are looking for an experience. The fact that beer is lower in alcohol also allows guests to enjoy more without falling over.”
According to Ellyn, the current craft beer boom isn’t the first time ales have been used as ingredients in cocktails. “Reports of mixing beers into cocktails date back hundreds of years,” says Ellyn. “[Beer cocktails are] trending today because of the emphasis on good food, attention to food and drink pairings, and crafting better and more innovative beers.”
Here to stay?
Both Rogue and Deschutes operate restaurants at their breweries, and each offer beer cocktails at their respective facilities. “Rogue has quite a few signature beer cocktails and we rotate new ones in seasonally or based on the ingredients we are growing on our farms—honey, hazelnuts, hops, cherries, for example,” says Joyce. “Rogue brews a wide variety of beers. Each of them would add something different or unique to a cocktail. But, if I had to pick something, I would narrow it down to the Rogue Farms family of beers that are crafted using ingredients we grow on our farms here in Oregon.”
At Deschutes, beer cocktails are served primarily during special events. “We are currently serving them on special menus and in our catering facilities,” says Usinowicz. “As we only use spirits in our Mountain Room (where we hold most of our catered events within the brewery), we enjoy creating specialty ‘beer-tails’ for individual special events. We are beginning to play with them more in our pubs as well. Most of our beers can be paired into a beer-tail. Some of our Reserve and Bond Series beers are already complex with flavors. I always look to our beers found in six packs as they are less expensive and usually less intense.”
All of our experts agree that the beer cocktail trend is likely here to stay. “I think beer has established itself as a reliable ingredient in cocktails,” says Joyce. “Whether it is forever called or identified as a ‘Beer Cocktail,’ we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, beer is an excellent addition and not only offers a wide variety of flavors, but also a story.” Usinowicz agrees. “I see so many people having fun with beer-tails. I see it like sangria: a fun way to celebrate another fermented product.” Ellyn adds that the trend will likely continue for as long as there is interest in artisanal beer and food. “Since interest in quality beer and food doesn’t look like it will be going away anytime soon, we think this trend is here to say.”
Click here to view the Bloody Mary Takes a Ride on the Pineapple Express recipe by Chef Emily Ellyn.
Jeremy Zoss writes about craft beer for a variety of publications. He is based in northeast Minneapolis, a hotbed for local craft breweries.