The Creative Rebirth of Beer Cocktails

by Karl S Updated on February 18, 2011

Forget the Black and Tan. Forget the Shandy and the Michelada. Those are yesterday’s beer cocktails.

The craft beer revolution has given us an insane variety of flavors. We’re just now realizing that we can bring these flavors to the kitchen and that beer is a better cooking ingredient than wine, so it’s not surprising that this trend has carried over to professional mixology.

Ryan Conklin is taking advantage of the opportunity.

Ryan is a buddy of mine, the Denver Bartender Examiner, and a bartender at Euclid Hall in downtown Denver. Euclid is a newer establishment but has really made a name for itself with its wide craft beer selection and delicious food in an upscale atmosphere.

Whenever I stop, by I’m treated to a new beer by Ryan. He’s the bartender we always hope for but rarely get – knowledgeable about beer, helpful in finding a good match for your taste buds, and oh yea, knowledgeable about beer.

He’s also a crazy experimenter and is always whipping up new beer cocktails. It’s become his trademark of sorts. He’s always looking for feedback to improve, and I’m always happy to be the guinea pig.

So why the resurgence in beer cocktails? Here are three reasons:

  • Selection. When you have access to so many new beers with different flavor profiles it creates limitless options for mixing with spirits and other ingredients.
  • Craft beer on tap. This is one I never thought about until Ryan told me. Since there are so many more craft beers on tap it makes it much easier to mix drinks. You don’t need to crack open an expensive bottle for 2 ounces of beer and waste the rest. The beer becomes like a bottle of spirits on the shelf – ready for a drop or a full glass.
  • More mature palates. For the same reason people are getting into craft beer, they enjoy the new flavors that beer cocktails bring. You can taste something you’ve never tasted before.

Purists resent the beer cocktail, but if you like a good cocktail, then why can’t beer be one of the ingredients? I wonder if the naysayers feel the same way about all cocktails. Wouldn’t the same logic assume that whiskey should only be drunk straight and never mixed?

Recipe for You

Ryan walks us through making one of his signature beer cocktails, the cherry bourbon milk stout. Here’s the recipe:

Cherry Bourbon Milk Stout

  • 6 oz. Left Hand Milk Stout
  • 1 oz Corner Creek Kentucky Bourbon
  • 1/2 oz Leopold Brothers Tart Michigan Cherry Liqueur

This one is delicious and has really become popular with guests. I recommend you give it a shot sometime.

Always wanting to hone his skills, Ryan then challenges me to pick a beer off the tap list for him to make a cocktail on the fly. Trying to be sneaky, I picked one I hadn’t seen him use yet – the Steamworks Colorado Kolsch.

He passed the test making a light but juicy concoction with Old Tim Gin, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and Leopold Brothers Absinthe. Nicely done.

Speaking of Absinthe, here’s how to make it.

Big thanks to Ryan and Euclid Hall for letting me drink their expensive beer and liquor before noon on a Sunday. If you’re ever in Denver, swing by and check it out.