Beer cocktails may sound like a bad bar dare, but it’s becoming a thing. Really.
Beer in cocktails is not completely unheard of. Boilermakers have been around as long as there have been college students to drink them. Texans have perfected beergaritas – a margarita made with brew. Dark and Stormies – a rum-and-ginger-beer cocktail – have seen a resurgence, thanks to craft breweries brewing up batches of ginger-laced brew (the drinks also are made with non-alcoholic ginger beer).
At Tacoma’s Harmon Taproom, the littlest sister of the Harmon brewpubs in Tacoma and Gig Harbor, the popularity of a new beer cocktail menu has taken the restaurant somewhat by surprise. General Manager Riley Holder modeled the menu in the spirit of the craft cocktail trend in which chefs and mixologists put flavorful spins on classic drinks using house-made bitters, tinctures and other complicated flavors.
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Since Holder’s a guy who likes to sell beer, he thought he’d make his signature move by combining classic cocktails with Harmon flagship beers. He introduced six beer cocktails on the first menu. Another menu will debut soon.
The beer drinks weren’t always successful – he spent the last part of the summer fiddling with recipes. Holder said some of his cocktails were simply undrinkable until he learned how to use beer in a cocktail as a flavor element, much like tinctures are added to craft cocktails, rather than a major ingredient.
As part of my Thirsty Thursday series - where I talk to South Sound spirits enthusiasts, barkeeps and other beverage industry folks - I asked Holder to tell readers how he blended together the beer cocktails at Harmon Taproom:
Q: What happened when you started adding beer to cocktails?A: When I first thought I’d try the cocktails with beer, it was in the summer. I introduced the beergarita … we call it the “Fresco Fiasco.” I only gave it to one or two people. Then, one person would order it and it seemed like the rest of the bar would. It picked up by word of mouth. It’s made with a scratch margarita base – fresh lemons, limes and orange muddled together to order – with Sauza (tequila) and a little bit of triple sec, a splash of orange juice for color and topping it with our Point Defiance IPA – with a salted rim.
Q: Which beer cocktail has proven a bar favorite?A: The one I love is the Lavender Blonde. It’s made with fresh oranges, lavender bitters, a little bit of sugar, a little bit of egg whites, vanilla and Pinnacle Whipped vodka. And then this is shaken vigorously to get the frothiness from the egg whites. Then we strain it over ice in a schooner glass and top it with an ounce of the Harmon blonde.
Q: It’s almost like an old flip, those frothy cocktails made with egg whites?A: That’s what we’re trying to do, bring back some of the cocktails, the old timey cocktails. So we have another one, it’s a spin on an Old Fashioned. We’re calling it the “Old is the New Fashion.”
Q: What’s in that one?A: Knob Creek bourbon, fresh cherries and orange, aromatic bitters, a touch of sugar and an ounce and a half of Harmon Expedition Amber.
Q: What’s the flavor like?A: Oh, god, it’s hard to describe. I’ve added more bitters to it, it’s not beer heavy, but it definitely has a malt flavor to it to complement the whiskey.
Q: It sounds like you’re heading to less sweet drinks?A: Yes, but with interesting flavors. … I created the Lavender Blonde to make it a less intimidating start for the beer cocktails or the soon-to-be beer cocktail drinkers. We wanted something for – where everyone could drink that.
Q: How much are the drinks resonating with your diners?A: With the whole trend of craft cocktails, people are being more open minded to different cocktails. One of the first things people think of with a beer cocktail is that I don’t want to mix liquor and beer, which is a total myth.
Q: Other than that myth, are diners understanding the flavor profiles?A: Since the craft cocktail trend, they’re being open minded about getting egg whites or balsamic vinegar in their drinks. We’re not meeting a lot of resistance – it’s quite the opposite.
Harmon Taproom204 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-212-2725, harmonbrewingco.com. Beer cocktails are $10 each.