The only thing more American than an ice-cold lager is, perhaps, tossing that lager into a glass and mixing it with booze.
The beer cocktail has a long and rich history, one which reports suggest began in the 1690s with the flip—a blend of beer, rum, molasses and either eggs or cream. Another early ancestor, the purl, is a simple ale infused with wormwood and, later, gin—a drink so old and so English that it’s mentioned in works by both Shakespeare and Dickens.
The ingenious idea to combine beer and spirit, liqueur or even wine also gave way to the Picon Bière, France’s take on a shandy, which matches citrus with pilsner with the now-obscure bitter orange liqueur, Amer Picon, and the Black Velvet, a combination of Guinness and Champagne that dates to the mid-1800s.
But it’s the British shandy, or shandygaff (a combination of beer and ginger beer) and the German radler (beer and lemonade or lemon soda) that have entered the market anew, inspiring a new generation of low-proof drinks like Alex Day’s Campari Radler and Eric Prum and Josh Williams of W&P Design’s seasonal Sour Cherry Shandy.
But the beer cocktail has also ventured far beyond its flip, purl and radler roots. Toby Maloney, of Chicago’s the Violet Hour, finds more obscure inspiration in the “bro-mosa” (Miller High Life and orange juice), adding the Hungarian amaro Zwack to a High Life, lemon and orange juice base in his Hungry Hungry Hipster. Grand Army’s Damon Boelte—one of the great practitioners of the beer cocktail—and 2 Birds 1 Stone’s Adam Bernbach go even further off-piste. Boelte opts to up the proof in his Arrowhead Limited, which he describes as a “mezcal Negroni” topped with IPA (hold on to your hangovers, folks!). And Bernbach takes inspiration from both Austria and the Caribbean, mixing Zirbenz pine liqueur with lime juice, velvet falernum and Vienna-style lager for his Altstadt.
What do these drinks all have in common? They all contain beer. And they are all cocktails. So this weekend if you’re wondering if you should have a beer or a cocktail, do the sensible thing and have both—in one.