"Whiskey then beer, have no fear; beer before whiskey, mighty risky." Or something like that. Versions of this cautionary consumption chestnut have been around forever. But what of beer and whiskey at the same time in the same damn glass? What about beer cocktails?
It's really surprising that we are not seeing more brew-based drinks. For better or worse, the "cocktail culture" boom continues with even modest bars offering up a daily "craft" mule or martini. And craft-brewing growth shows no sign of waning. Twenty or more tap handles at the bar is the new norm.
The most popular beer drinks tend to fall into what I'll call the "light and icy" category: shandies, the IPA and Campari mix I wrote about in my last column, the beer-based bloody mary. There are also some all-beer mixed drinks, such as the Guinness and pale ale or lager combo called a "black and tan" on these shores, though not to be ordered under this moniker in Ireland (where this color combo was also the name of a brutal British occupational force). Union Craft Brewing's tasting room staff recently poured something they called an Old Shmoke, a mix of Union's Old Pro Gose and Schmoke Rauchbier, which was like licking the sour, smoky leavings off a German dinner plate. (That's a compliment, by the way.)
Outside of the hoary old boilermaker (which is either a whiskey shot and a beer or a whiskey shot in a beer) suds and spirit drinks are not as common. One I found online that looked promising is the De Beauvoir: a shot of Pikesville, two-thirds shot of Frangelico, half a shot of lemon juice, teaspoon of brown sugar, one-and-two-thirds shot of smoked porter, dash of bitters. Shaken with ice, it was a refreshing concoction but I had to conclude I'd rather just drink the beer and sip the rye. (And not have a bottle of Frangelico at all.)
The best beertail I've yet had was at Blue Pit BBQ where bartender Josh Sullivan made me something he calls a "Fatti maschii, parole femine." Well, like most of us, he actually uses the English translation of the somewhat controversial blurb appearing on the Maryland state seal: "Manly deeds, womanly words." After posting it on his drinks blog postprohibition.com the Manly went quasi-viral as the Food and Wine website and others picked it up. It's a busy thing, combining IPA with rum, bourbon, lemon, Amaro Montenegro, honey syrup (infused with chamomile, cloves, black pepper), and bitters. Sweet, sour, and floral notes perfectly frame the hoppy bite of the IPA. Very tasty. But, yeah, lots of bother. (Please don't order one on a busy Friday night.)
Pioneering local beer-maker Hugh Sisson, head of Heavy Seas Beer, is also a beery cocktail fan. Well, with a caveat. "My only concern is when they get TOO boozy and then folks are still serving large 'beerlike' portions," he wrote me in an email. "I have always been a fan of giving the consumers a fighting chance, and a 12 oz 75 proof beverage doesn't really do that."
One way his Heavy Seas Ale houses deal with beer drinks being too big and too strong is through beer syrups. Essentially, making simple syrups with beer instead of water—concentrating the beeriness while boiling off the alcohol. They have a pretty extensive beer cocktail list using this approach.
Or you can just say "fuck it" and go all in. Have a Hangman's Blood, a fave tipple of "A Clockwork Orange" author Anthony Burgess made from—and I kid you not—double shots of gin, whiskey, rum, port, and brandy; a bottle of stout; and then topped with champagne.
Burgess said the concoction delivered "metaphysical elation." More like catatonia. Mighty risky indeed.