The boozed-up beers of summer

Beer cocktails needn’t be so crass and uninteresting

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From our July 2024 issue

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Some undetermined time in the long past, possibly in 1890s Montana, a miner had finished a long and tiring day and needed a refreshing beer. But after aparticularly taxing shift, a beer wasn’t going to cut it alone. He asked the barman for a shot of whisky as well — and washed it down with his pint.

It’s hard to call the boilermaker a cocktail, and inventing one certainly wasn’t on the mind of our tired protagonist. To this day, mixing beer and spirits is not generally the province of mixologists; it’s a combination more often…

Some undetermined time in the long past, possibly in 1890s Montana, a miner had finished a long and tiring day and needed a refreshing beer. But after a
particularly taxing shift, a beer wasn’t going to cut it alone. He asked the barman for a shot of whisky as well — and washed it down with his pint.

It’s hard to call the boilermaker a cocktail, and inventing one certainly wasn’t on the mind of our tired protagonist. To this day, mixing beer and spirits is not generally the province of mixologists; it’s a combination more often favored by partygoers looking to get slammed as entertainingly and quickly as possible. There’s the Irish Car Bomb — a shot of Baileys and whisky dropped into Guinness — and the Swedish Ubåt — a shot of Jägermeister with a pint of lager — and endless other snappily named concoctions available at local music festivals.

But beer cocktails needn’t be so crass and uninteresting — and spiked beers and shandies can be perfect refreshers in hot summer weather.

A good beer-based cocktail has three components: the beer as the base, a strong liquor and a cocktail mix, if you want something to dilute it and spread the flavors out. The trick is generally to find a mixer that brings out some inherent notes in the beer, rather than making you feel like you’re drinking a beer with something shoved into it. The best beer-based cocktails lean heavily on citrus — orange, grapefruit, lime or lemon — which harmonizes nicely with its lightness.

The Coronarita is one of the most popular beer cocktails. It’s basically what it sounds like: a mash-up of a Corona and a margarita, usually made with a micro bottle of Corona flipped upside down into a big glass. It looks great for Instagram, but you can do better. To start, make a classic margarita with two shots of tequila (I use Tapatio), one shot of triple sec or orange curaçao, ¾ shot of fresh lime juice and half a shot of 1:1 simple syrup poured into a glass. Add ice cubes — crushed ice is pretty but will just dilute the drink — and slowly top up with beer, gently stirring as you do. You can use Corona or any light Mexican lager, but an IPA also works if you want to add more pop. The result is a lovely way of extending the margarita taste.

The other trendy Corona-based cocktail is the TikTok-famous Corona Sunrise. To make it, many people drink the Corona to the top of the label, then top up with a shot and a half of tequila, two shots of orange juice and a dash of grenadine. That original version is fine, but it can be improved with a couple of tweaks. Try swapping the tequila for the smokier mezcal (Ilegal Mezcal is my choice) and use sparkling orange (or blood orange) juice. Don’t be afraid to use more grenadine and add a dash of bitters. Layering this in the bottle looks pretty, but it’s an awful experience to drink, so make it in a pint glass, gently stirred. Whereas the original is flat — both in texture and flavor — this has a bit more bite while still being a pretty, refreshing drink.

One of the most popular beer “cocktails” (if we use a very liberal definition) is sweet: the shandy. If you like its classic combination of beer and lemonade, there’s a lot to play with here — adding additional spirits and flavors to the experience — but you’re constantly riding on the edge of “too sweet,” so I recommend using bitter Sicilian sparkling lemonade, from a brand like Fever-Tree. The best shandy cocktail I’ve tried is a Yuzu shandy, with Asahi plus lemonade, fresh lemon juice, Yuzu syrup and a shot of bourbon. Be sparing with the syrup, and you get a wonderfully sophisticated lemony drink, with the bourbon lifting up the caramel quality of the beer.

For a riff on an existing summer cocktail — the Bloody Mary — there are several ways to go. For a slimmer version, find a good hot sauce you really like and mix two tablespoons with a shot of fresh lime juice and a shot of vodka and slowly mix into a lager. It’s punchy, and you can always make it hotter by adding fresh chili. Or go all the way and make a Bloody Beer. Mix a 2:1 ratio of beer and tomato juice and add six dashes of Tabasco, two dashes of Worcestershire sauce and half an ounce of lime juice, gently stirred together, and finished with a celery stick. If you really want to get slammed, pour a full-bodied red wine on top as a float.

The best beer-based cocktail, though, is a masculine spin on another popular summer cocktail: the spritz. The Aperol spritz involves two shots of Aperol and a healthy dose of prosecco, topped up with soda water. For its beer-based cousin — sometimes called the Spaghett — take a bottle of light lager, add two shots of Campari, a shot of fresh lemon juice and a dash of orange bitters. The combination is pleasantly bitter, citrusy and beautifully refreshing. I’ll be drinking these all summer long.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2024 World edition.

Ross Anderson is the life editor of The Spectator World and a regular contributor to the New York Sun.

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