An ice-cold beer and refreshing cocktail are both great options for sipping on a hot summer day. But if you're having trouble deciding between the two, we've got a concoction that'll upgrade your summer quicker than you can pound a Bud Heavy: beer cocktails. Since there are many beer varieties to choose from, including fruit- or sour-based brews, malts, ales, lagers and more, the drink combinations are endless. And don't forget about hard cider, perfect for adding to sangrias, spritzers and other summer cocktails.
To make sure we leave no can unopened, we connect with Will Duncan, Certified Cicerone and partner and beverage director at Dusek’s Board and Beer in Chicago. "It's important to reference classic drink builds and flavor combinations, bridging and contrasting the many flavors, which link the beer and spirit," he says.
The first step is to choose the type of beer, then identify key flavors that will affect the other ingredients you incorporate. "The are so many different questions of taste you can explore in each beer," Duncan explains. "Are we getting banana and clove characteristics from a Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast strain, notes of coffee and chocolate, or even caramel and toffee given by the specialty malts used in brewing?"
"From there, you need to search for the flavors found in common spirits," he says. "Is there an aromatic spice profile provided by gin botanicals; funky banana flavors, which show up in Jamaican pot still rums; or caramel, vanilla and toast flavors, which explode from a fine American bourbon?" Following this formula will result in the optimal boozy duo.
Here are a few class cocktail variations Duncan recommends to get you started.
"A Paloma variation can be great using a big, hoppy, grapefruit-forward West Coast IPA," he shares. "I'd make a beer syrup using this IPA in place of water with a little grapefruit juice and sugar. Shake that with some tequila and lime, then top it with more of the beer. Garnish the drink with salt and a grapefruit slice, and you've got quite the summer refresher."
Gin or Vodka Cocktails
"I like to do a gin French 75 variation replacing the Champagne with a saison ale. The spice profile of the saison pairs perfectly with the gin. Lighter lagers known for clean drinkability make great substitutes for soda water. Try a Tom Collins with a fine German pilsner in place of the soda water, and you'll be happy."
Tropical or Tiki-Inspired Cocktails
"You can spin tropical or tiki-inspired cocktails by combining great island rums with beers that show complementary flavors, such as fruit-forward Citra hop-based pale ales, or the banana- and clove-forward Bavarian Hefeweizen."
"Cider is extremely cocktail friendly. The ripe, fruity character is a natural complement with whiskey, gin and vodka. Many ciders show a tart character, which can stand in for citrus in some builds. The classic Stone Fence cocktail, traditionally built with dark rum and hard cider, is a great jumping-off point."
Though beer cocktails tend to be more popular in the summer, Duncan strongly believes they can be enjoyed year-round. So whether you're sipping one by the pool or near the fire, you might just discover your new favorite drink.
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