Whether it’s a bright, citrusy IPA or a malty imperial stout, beer can serve as the base for a range of easy-to-make sweeteners, which, when used in place of simple syrup, can introduce complexity to a number of classic and modern drinks. From the sage-beer syrup in Christiaan Rollich’s White Bull to the playful Budweiser syrup in Erika Ordoñez’s The Buddy System, these syrups expand the world of beer cocktails well beyond the expected shandy.
At some bars, making the syrup has been a way to practice sustainability and use otherwise undrinkable beer. At The Rockwell Place in Brooklyn, shutting down the bar during the pandemic meant cases of beer went unrefrigerated. “[Beer] had been cooking and getting cold and getting hot again throughout the season,” says Alex Kveton, The Rockwell Place's general manager. “The hops in them had actually changed. The yeast had changed. They had all kind of mutated a little bit.” Though Kveton’s beer syrups were born out of necessity and an aversion to waste, they proved fun to play with, and The Rockwell Place now has a dedicated menu section for beer syrup cocktails.
Like many homemade wine syrups, most beer syrups can follow a simple 1:1 ratio, with the ingredients dissolved together over low heat. “It’s not a reduction; it really is just adding sugar and adding enough heat to dissolve with agitation,” says Kveton. Gentle heating is particularly important so as not to diminish the freshness or the character of the beer.
Here, five beer syrups and how to use them.
Sour beers, like gose or Berliner Weisse, can add sharpness to a number of classic cocktails, from sours to spritzes. To up the flavor ante even more, try adding fresh fruit such as cherries or raspberries to the syrup, as Morgan Schick does in his sour triple threat, the Ronnie Buders.
Saisons add subtle acidity to drinks. When considering cocktail pairings, try saison syrup in conjunction with fruit, taking cues from the beer’s hops. For his Use Your Illusion I.5, Kveton was inspired by the Huell Melon hops used in Perennial saison, pairing it with a neon orange cantaloupe syrup.
IPAs result in a fresh, bright syrup that can be suited to whiskey- or amaro-based drinks, or, as Kveton suggests, it can complement the fruitiness of agave-based cocktails as in his Use Your Illusion II. Given the hop-forward nature of IPAs, however, this syrup runs the risk of reading as rancid if overheated, so be careful to keep it on a low simmer.
The full-bodied profile of stout syrup works well as a substitute for simple syrup in a number of rich, creamy cocktails, like bartender Fanny Chu’s Espresso Stoutini. “It’s kind of like biting into a dark chocolate cacao nib,” she says. Or, incorporate the syrup in a shaken, citrusy drink to balance out the flavors, as Kveton does in The Spaghetti Incident in the Jungle cocktail.
A German wheat beer, hefeweizen’s dry, tart flavors add extra kick to drinks without throwing them out of balance. In its syrup form, it works particularly well with sour formulas (in the United States, hefeweizen is sometimes served with lemon to cut the wheat flavor) as well as in dry sherry-based drinks. Try adding fresh herbs, such as sage or rosemary, to the syrup for added complexity.