Chasing Beer

For long the ultimate off-the-bottle drink, beer is being mixed and shaken up—not just for the new drinker but even the connoisseur.

Anyone for a glass of beer with a dash of apple cider or peach liqueur? Who would have thought that the classic lager or dark stouts could be mixed and matched to create new flavours, sometimes leading to outright bizarre drink experiments. No matter how much the purists turn up their noses in derision, beer cocktails are here to stay. The new age drinker is not interested in a simple mug full of frothy golden beer; he wants to spice things up and add a bit of zing to his drink. Beer is now being paired with nearly every ingredient under the sun, from cherry cordial, Tabasco sauce to even honey and coriander.

“A lot of people, especially the younger ones, don’t like the taste of beer when they start off. So pairing it with lemon cordial and ice is a great way of initiating them to its taste,” says author and bar consultant, Shatbhi Basu, who is considered India’s first lady on everything spirited. The easiest, and often the most impressive variety of cocktails, are made with a combination of two different beers. Black and Tan, one such exhilarating drink, is prepared by layering pale ale on top of stout or porter. In countries like the US and UK, some of the best mixes are created around holidays like Halloween and Christmas, when people let loose their culinary creativity. So you have an Evil Santa, which is a refreshing mix of stout and Christmas ale, or a Black and Orange, which combines beer with seasonal pumpkin ale. All one needs to do is keep an open mind, a stocked bar and the results can be quite fascinating! People have now taken to mixing beer with various other alcohols like brandy and wine. Take Black Velvet, for instance, one of the most popular beer cocktails around the world, which is an irreligiously smooth mix of Champagne and stout.

In India, beer cocktails were unheard of till sometime ago, due to the unavailability of varieties like stout, porter and ale. Today, high-end liquor shops and discerning pubs have made a conscious effort at stocking them, thus making it easier for bartenders to mix, stir and shake up a storm. “India has always been a lager market; however, of late many international brands like Guinness have made a foray into the country to cater to the well-travelled consumer. As a result of this huge choice that is now available, mixology with beer is gaining ground in cosmopolitans like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore,” says Rohan Jelkie, trainer with Tulleeho, a beverage consultancy and training company.

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It is a great time to look beyond the usual shandy, made with lager and lemonade, and experiment with different mixes and interesting formats of serving beer. Mumbai-based brew master Raj Khalid is of the opinion that the humble tipple can become quite the epitome of style and elegance chic if paired with the right ingredients. “For instance, in north of France, they put crème cassis in beer, which completely changes its flavour,” says Raj, who firmly believes that the first such cocktail was made by truck drivers who dropped a shot of whisky in a glass of beer.

The old truck driver routine seems to have found favour with mixologists who usually drop shots of liqueurs such as Southern Comfort and Drambuie into beer. This adds fresh undertones to the drink, without changing the taste of beer much. Even men, who loathe amendments being made to their beloved snifter are taking to this new format of chasing a glass of beer with a shot of tequila or liqueur. “Beer cocktails are ideal brunch companions on a hot summery Sunday when one doesn’t want to drink hard liquor and yet wants to enjoy a tall refreshing drink,” explains Shatbhi. An ideal summer drink is the Happy Mich or the Michilada, which is popular even with the snooty purists. “This is an uplifting cocktail, originally from Mexico, that is made with beer, lime juice and hot sauce and is served in a salt-rimmed glass of ice. We also do a Red Eye or Bloody Beer, which is made with a Bloody Mary mix,” says Ashish Ahuja, director, Pebble Street, one of Delhi’s premier pubs.

The mixes and ingredients depend on the kind of beer being used. Lagers, being the more neutral variety, are open to being mixed with a wide gamut of spices and herbs. Those who wish for a dry cocktail can use chillies, honey, coriander and basil. For a sweeter touch, one can experiment with fruits like guavas, mangoes and bananas. “One could also use spices, not the hot variety but the aromatic kinds. Our Indian sabut garam masalas (whole spices) would go extremely well with beer,” says Rohan.

Though this is just the beginning for beer cocktails, mixologists hope that the advent of more and more microbreweries would stiffen the trend. “For cocktails, one needs beer on tap. Not every pub has the equipment to keep kegs chilled all the time. Microbreweries and pubs need to have a vision to see the potential of beer cocktails and exploit it. That’s when it will really turn from a trend to a rage,” concludes Shatbhi.

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