Bartender’s Choice: “Something With Beer”

In "Bartender's Choice," we challenge some of our favorite bartenders with a drink order, and see what they come up with. This round: Zac Sorensen, Adam Bernbach, Sara Justice and Matthew Schrage take on "something with beer."

Though it’s not often lumped into the category of traditional mixers, beer has a centuries-long history as an essential ingredient in cocktails—from the colonial-era Rattle Skull to the Black Velvet to the Michelada. And nowadays, thanks to an ever-widening array of available beer styles, bartenders are finding new ways to incorporate it into their drinks programs as a means of adding both flavor and texture.

The Violet Hour has used beer in cocktails for many years,” says bartender Zac Sorensen, of the hidden Chicago cocktail bar. “What has changed is the type and quantity of beer used in our recipes.”

Sorensen’s approach to beer in cocktails goes beyond its obvious role as a lengthener, looking to it, instead, as “the body and center of the drink.” Such is the case in his Hop Skip Jump, an ode to the bitter beer purls of yore, in which Cynar and Punt e Mes highlight the hoppy aromas in American Pale Ale. “Herbal and earthy elements can really complement the flavors found in your beer,” he says.

Similarly, Adam Bernbach at D.C.’s 2 Birds 1 Stone plays off the fruit and spice character found in Ayinger Bräu Weisse, an unfiltered Bavarian wheat beer, in the bar’s famous Bananas Is My Business. “It’s conceptualized around the various types of banana flavors in Hefeweizen,” says Bernbach. The drink—rounded out with banana soda, oat whiskey and a touch of bitter amaro—recalls the flavors of fresh, roasted and candied banana, brought together in a Collins glass over ice.

Other bartenders have drilled down to find out which new-school craft beer styles work best in classic formulas. IPAs, according to Sara Justice of Philadelphia’s The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., are ideally suited to flips, where the bitter hops soften the drink’s characteristic richness. In the Elephant Flip, a cocktail created by longtime bartender Christina Rando, beer is used as a topper to a bittersweet, shaken mixture of Ramazotti, bourbon, Jamaican rum, pomegranate molasses, mole bitters and egg. “It’s basically like a pomegranate-filled chocolate, with this bitter snap,” says Justice. “Rich, ‘dessert-y’ and filling, but still balanced.”

Another, less conventional riff on the flip comes from Matthew Schrage at Highball Lounge in Boston, who achieves that signature foam despite skipping the egg white altogether: His Winter Lady, a blend of Cognac, Curaçao, allspice and ginger syrup, is topped instead with Hefeweizen foam from the tap. “It provides a frothy texture reminiscent of an egg white drink, but with much more pleasing aromatics,” says Schrage. A similar effect can be achieved at home by simply pouring out (or drinking, let’s be real) a third of a bottled beer, then swirling the bottle to create a foamy head.

As for the name, Schrage insists that it’s an ode to a Leonard Cohen song—and not the pink Prohibition-era cocktail. “This drink’s design bares very little resemblance to a Pink Lady,” he says, “[but] it appeals to a similar guest who wants something a bit more warming in the wintertime.”