Beer Cocktail Fisticuffs

March 28,2012 by 16 Comments

The internet punches have been flying.

It all started last week when BeerScribe’s Andy Crouch called for the death of beer cocktails and collaboration beers.

Beer cocktail opponents

The beer cocktail debate has actually been going on for quite some time, but Andy certainly fanned the flames:

“In reality, however, beer tends to get lost and overwhelmed as an ingredient in cocktails. The mix of carbonation levels don’t play well together and the small amounts of spirit ingredients, especially those used in smaller measures, often get washed out in the process. The end result is a muddled mess of flavors, often splashing against one another for dominance instead of rowing together in a controlled and directed fashion.”
– Beer Scribe

A number of supporters popped up in the comments. Then came a left hook from a heavyweight. Whether he read Crouch’s piece that day or not (helluva coincidence if not), Charlie Papazian sent this out on Twitter:

But the counter-attacks came sharp and swift.

In the beer cocktail corner

Ezra of The New School beer blog hit back, calling Crouch a big fat idiot (lol…) and condemning his attack on experimentation:

“So you don’t like beer cocktails or brewers teaming up to hash out a new wild experimental collaboration beer. OK, but would you rather go back to a world where your only question was ale or lager? Who knows where we will find the next India Pale Ale if brewers stop experimenting and collaborating.”
– The New School

Then esteemed beer writer Stephen Beaumont tagged himself in and delivered a cold hard dose of logic. He recounts how he responds to people who say “I don’t like beer” when all they’ve tried are mass-produced lagers:

“My response to these self-depriving souls was the same then as it is today. “Beer is a multi-headed beast,” I say, although not necessarily in those exact words, “Just because you don’t like what you have tried thus far needn’t mean that none of it is to your taste.”
– Stephen Beaumont

Plenty of beer cocktail supporters chimed in on social networks and blog comments, outnumbering the vocal naysayers.

Where do I stand?

It’s not hard to figure it out considering I’ve done numerous posts on beer cocktails.

I understand the argument against them. “The brewer worked hard to craft the beer – why ruin their intentions?” And “The beer is at its best on its own”.

But here’s the thing. The people who make these arguments are looking at it the wrong way.

Don’t look at beer cocktails from a beer drinker’s perspective, look at them from a cocktail drinker’s perspective. It changes everything. Instead of thinking, “Why would I dump this beer into a mixed drink”, you ask, “What ingredient could I add to make this a mind-blowing cocktail”? And beer is a damn fine ingredient.

This comment from the BeerScribe post sums up my point:

“I completely agree about beer cocktails. If it’s already a good beer, it’s a rare case that adding liquor or other ingredients is going to improve it.”

It’s not about improving a beer, it’s about making a better cocktail.

If you’re a die-hard purist beer drinker, I understand where you’re coming from. You’ll probably never like beer cocktails. But if you’re like me and you dabble in wine, spirits, and cocktails, then you appreciate the experimentation and new marriages of flavor.

I think much of the venom comes from the fact that most people haven’t had a really good beer cocktail. Hell, most of the ones I’ve written about (e.g. The black velvet) are fun to make but not exactly delicacies.

Maybe I’m spoiled by living in a city that has beer cocktail competitions in that I’ve had some great ones.

I’d be willing to bet that if Andy could try Ryan’s Cherry Bourbon Milk Stout or Justin Colorado Blackberry Whiskey Sour made with La Folie, he would change his tune.

Which corner are you in?

About Billy Broas

He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

16 responses to “Beer Cocktail Fisticuffs”

  1. Scott Roche says:

    I’m pro-beer cocktails. I’ve never tried something as fancy as the Milk Stout one, but I’d be game.

  2. David Ivey says:

    Messing up a good craft beer concerns the anti-cocktail camp. (the purist)
    Beer cocktails are not really beers as such. However, “cocktails” might open some non beer drinkers taste buds, leading them to consider drinking a good beer – straight. :)

    • Billy Broas says:

      That’s a good way to look at it David. By combining the two you’re bringing together different camps.

  3. A.J. says:

    It seems that Andy and others are mainly against beer cocktails because they haven’t had a great one. I’m willing to believe that there are a number of beer cocktail recipes floating around that aren’t stellar, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument against the idea of them. I’ve had less than awesome experiences with barrel-aged beers, food cooked with beer, and even beer…neat. When anything is new (or new to the masses) there are bound to be more misses than hits. Future products tend to improve from those mistakes, though (a brewer learns how best to blend the products of his barrel-aging, a chef learns what flavors work best with a particular beer, or a bartender creates a more balanced cocktail that highlights all of its ingredients). The purist argument is a strange one too. Beer itself is a menagerie of ingredients, yet I’ve seen no call to stop adulterating the perfect water with malted barley. Some against beer cocktails may be holding onto bottles of beer in their cellar right now that have become something quite different from what the brewer intended. Are they doing something wrong? No, and neither are those making beer cocktails.

    • Billy Broas says:

      All great points A.J. I especially like the one about people mistreating beer. There are plenty of people that age beers that the brewer didn’t intend to be aged. For me this argument is very simple – if it tastes good, why not? That leads me to believe that they haven’t tasted great ones, or they’re just over thinking the whole thing.

  4. Sheppy says:

    I personally don’t like the idea of DRINKING beer cocktails (because I’ve never had one that I thought was as good as the beer in it). But, I am a big fan of experimentation, so I support the movement.

    Just because I don’t necessarily like the result doesn’t mean that others don’t. I’m fine with my tastes being different than others. Life would be pretty boring if everyone was like me.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Andy’s article would be a lot less inflammatory (and sensible) if he took your position. It’s the “death to beer cocktails” thing that gets me.

  5. As I chef, I can’t understand the argument against beer cocktails. There is something to be said for appreciating beer on its own. I love beer, I don’t particularly like beer cocktails. To say that using beer as an ingredient in a cocktail is blasphemy seems ridiculous, where is the line drawn? Can beer not be used as an ingredient in cooking? I enjoy wine, but I also enjoy using it as an ingredient to add to a dish and in a similar vein I enjoy a good sangria. If someone makes a delicious sangria does that mean that I’m disrespecting wine by drinking it? I think not. A farmer spends years raising a pig and curing a ham, am I disrespecting him or the ham by using it in a dish? Few would make that argument. I say use beer however you wish.

    • Billy Broas says:

      It’s great to have a chef chime in. You certainly appreciate the quality of a product on its own as well as its contribution to mixed dish or drink. I think the opponents of beer cocktails are taking a very narrow view of the world, and often a hypocritical one. The cooking with beer example highlights it best.

  6. Josh Bailey says:

    Similar controversy has been around for decades in the bourbon/whiskey world. Some people prefer the taste of the unadulterated strait whiskey trying to appreciated the craftsmanship that went into the grain bill, fermentation, distillation, aging, blending etc. Others like to make cocktails out of these whiskeys in order to try new things. Both sides make good arguments, but I just drink what I like. I do love a good strait bourbon as I love a good pale ale or stout. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t turn away from the idea of a cocktail made out of either. If it tastes good to me, that’s what matters.

    • Billy Broas says:

      You echoed what I said to A.J. above – “I drink what I like”. It really is that simple. It’s not about disrespecting the beer or ruining what the brewer intended. For those same reasons I don’t judge people who prefer Bud Light even after they’ve given craft beer a shot. If that’s what you like, that’s all that matters.

  7. Marc Bayes says:

    Apparently I missed this twitter-bomb battle so thank you for this post! I find it fascinating that this debate is such an issue. The perspective of “how can I make this cocktail better?” is the only way to look at beer cocktails. I had the idea of holding a beer cocktail event during GABF brought to you by Euclid Hall and Ryan Conklin. What beers? Reserve stuff by Deschutes, The Bruery, and Avery. It fell through but maybe next year. Point being beer cocktails are endless! People should focus their energy more on EBAY price gouging than beer and spirits being mixed. P.S. your video with Ryan going over beer cocktails is great, should add the link to this post.

    • Billy Broas says:

      You can count me in if you organize the beer cocktail event next year Marc. Good point about Ebay. There are a lot of things in the beer world to get fed up about, but this is way down on the list. Thanks for the compliment on the video with Ryan. I’ve got it linked at the bottom of the post.

  8. Shane says:

    I can’t imagine brew day without having a Hot Scotchie. While it might not be “beer” yet, the hot wort and scotch mix is tasty and a new tradition for me. Does that make me a bad person for mixing the two? Nope! But it sure does lubricate my brew days more. I’m all for beer cocktails.

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