How the Beertini Became a Midwestern Staple

The Beertini—a simple combination of crappy beer and green olives, often with a hit of brine—is a staple in bars across the Midwest. Sarah Baird on the ubiquity on this odd-ball beer cocktail and its variations.

Beertini

At first glance, the “Beertini” is the ultimate dad joke—something that a sitcom father would facetiously claim as his favorite drink after overhearing someone order an Appletini. His flannel-shirt-wearing buddies would all chuckle and eye-roll as they clinked their mugs together, happy with their classic, no-fuss beer selection.

In certain pockets of the Midwest, though, the combination of beer and olives known as the Beertini (also called the Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin Martini, depending on where you’re located) is not only very real, but is deeply engrained in barroom culture.

In its most elemental form, the Beertini is a drink and bar snack in one. The way a drinker preps his or her Beertini relies both on what’s available and on individual taste: a canned beer or a draft beer can be used, as can a stein or a lager glass, and the olive count can range from just a few to a whole bowl if the spirit moves you. Beertini-crafting is a trial and error process.

What the drink lacks in a colorful origin story (no one quite knows—or, frankly, cares—where the first Beertini came to be), it makes up for in simple best practices. Craft beer varieties need not apply and the olives can only be green, the kind most often found swimming in their own juices on dusty bar tops. Want to get wild and use a pimento or blue cheese-stuffed green olive? Not a problem. Try to drop a black olive in your beer, though, and watch the room raise a collective eyebrow.

The olives—and, often, a splash of olive juice—brighten up the beer, spotlighting how the humblest of ingredients can become the perfect odd couple. They also offer a charming lesson in barroom chemistry. When plunked into a glass of beer, the olives neither settle at the bottom nor lollygag around at the top of the glass. Instead, they bob up and down, sinking and rising like tiny, edible submarines. It’s downright hypnotic.

Beertini

Travel a little further down into South Dakota, and you’ll encounter a variation unceremoniously dubbed “Red Beer” (sometimes known unappetizingly as a “Bloody Beer”), which calls on both olives and tomato juice to brighten up a standard lager. The addition of tomato juice draws parallels to the Michelada—minus some of the spice, of course. But no one is quite sure if the two share a common ancestor, or if it is, perhaps, a case of multiple independent discoveries in the same vein as calculus or the theory of natural selection.

There also seem to be an almost infinite number of permutations and combinations for the way Red Beer can be crafted. Several people suggest swapping out the tomato for orange juice if it’s before noon to create a “poor man’s Mimosa,” while others claim the more olives you can plop into the glass, the better. A few even prefer the additional crunch of a pickle.

“Both my grandfathers were farmers, and after a long day in the field, they’d always come in and have a Red Beer,” said Hugh Weber, founder of a creative consulting company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “You just want the saltiest thing you can get your hands on after sweating in the sun all day, and Red Beer is it.”

Weber estimates you can find Red Beer (or a Beertini) in just about every single neighborhood bar across South Dakota, but seems less optimistic about the drink’s ultimate future. Craft breweries have been frothing up all over the Midwest for years now, supported largely by a boom of millennial enthusiasts, while Beertinis and Red Beer are the barroom hacks of a former generation.

But it’s hard to imagine olive-speckled beer steins disappearing anytime soon. The practice is, after all, a true testament to the creativity of Midwestern drinkers and their spirit of brassy, briny industriousness.

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