The craft beer evangelists are strangely suspicious if not downright vitriolic about the idea of beer cocktails. Charlie Papazian says his mind rages, Rick Sellers is generally sincere in pushing for a better notion–but he’s dismissive of the scene as it is, and one of the Hoosier Beer Geeks* (in a now deleted post) expressed the trepidation he felt until a recent conversion.
Rick Sellers’ post is probably the fullest analysis and the one closest to my own. There is a lot of confusion about what a beer cocktail is and there’s a lot of really crap drinks being made to ride the hype. In an attempt to clarify matters Sellers says:
Well, for starters, drop the word “beer” from the moniker – cocktails (and let’s not talk about the historical meaning of the word) are an intentional blend of ingredients that create a drink of balance.
I get where he’s coming from here, cocktails are cocktails. But we do genrify. Bartenders will talk about bourbon cocktails, gin cocktails etc. There’s more variety within the genres than most people realize, and there are more than a handful of patterns that can successfully leap unchanged between genres, but there it is.
But I’d like to extend what stands as the general rule in terms of classifying cocktails by the base liquor. If a cocktail’s base is beer with other things added in, like the Porteree or a Black Velvet** then it’s a beer cocktail.
If however, a drink is made the way that Sellers describes where beer is added to a base liquor in order to add complexity, that’s not a “beer cocktail” any more than a martini is a Vermouth cocktail.
So I disagree with Sellers when he says,
So, you want to create a cocktail that involves beer. Great. Please, please, please understand that beer is but a part of the drink and not the show, itself.
Because sometimes, frankly the beer is the show. But the rest of his critique stands: the drink has to be balanced, beers aren’t interchangeable, etc. (read him on this, not me).
I’m not sure what problem the craft beer community has with beer cocktails–most of them are made with craft beers (and whatever sells more craft beer is better for everyone that drinks craft beer). My only guess is that it’s a purity thing “Why adulterate a perfectly good beer?” I feel the same way about really good bourbon. But if the resulting product is good, let’s go for it.
And it’s not a “new” thing. Well, I mean it is, obviously as a contemporary trend. But both Jacob Grier and David Wondrich can vouch for its historical roots. So beer cocktails are all a part of reclaiming beer’s lost heritage in the same way that craft brewers originally recreatd historic styles as part of the craft beer renaissance. It’s “new” but being new doesn’t mean being foolish or wrong. I know that liking things that are trendy is unpalatable for the vanguard but there’s a lot to like about the craft cocktail movement, including beer cocktails.
*I Gimped a picture I yoinked from the now deleted entry. Credits to them.
**Black Velvets can be made 50/50 and sometimes are layered too, so I wouldn’t care if someone chose to also call this a “champagne cocktail.” However, I would argue that anything less than a champagne to Guiness ratio of 70:30, if not layered, would be Guiness-dominant.