I was recently asked to make a beer cocktail (read: a cocktail featuring beer in some way) for a mini-competition at Sessions Public. The peremeters were broad and the rules few, and yet I’ve never had a more difficult time inventing a drink. It felt like coaxing blood from a fucking stone, I think mostly because I don’t have a huge amount of respect for the category. Beer cocktails always feel forced to me, more interesting than they are delicious — I’ll have one and find it intellectually satisfying, and not need another. I think that was true of the one I ended up making, and that’s in fact been true of every beer cocktail I’ve ever had, except for one:*
Up In Smoke
1oz Laphroig Islay Scotch
1oz Fuji Apple simple syrup
0.25oz lime juice
3-4oz Allagash Curieux
Shake the scotch, syrup, and lime juice over ice. Strain into collins glass half-full with ice. Top with beer. Garnish with apple slice, and serve.
The Up in Smoke has been on Craft and Commerce’s list since they opened, I believe a Phil Ward original (but I welcome corrections on that point). While it wouldn’t take much mental horsepower to pair, say, a dark rum (caramel and vanilla flavors) with a stout or porter (vanilla and coffee flavors), this drink is the exact opposite. This pulls flavors from all over the place.
The Curieux is a Belgian-style tripel aged in bourbon barrels for 8 weeks. The beer is full of malty sweetness and almost affects a fruity character, which is here compounded by the apple syrup and given a backbone of briny, smokey scotch, a choice as strange as it is successful. Belgian beers can sometimes be too rich for beer cocktails, but the acidity of the lime juice and tart echo of the apple bat it back down.
This is a marvelously creative drink. It’s both fascinating and completely delicious, a 7-10 split in the culinary world. In 100 years, I would never have thought to invent this. Though I’ve thought of drinking it twice this week, and it’s only Thursday.
*MITIGATING DETAIL: A very talented bartender named Adam at Sessions did come up with one that I thought was superb, a rum/ginger concoction with muddled strawberries and topped with Liefmans Fruitesse, a bright, sweet fruit beer from Belgium. This echos the best drink Nick Budrow has ever made me, which was muddled strawberries with Buffalo Trace, lemon juice, simple syrup and again the Liefmans. The sweet/tart, vaguely balsamic quality of sours and lambics lends themselves to mixing with cocktails, particularly when actual berries are involved. Not that it’s necessarily better than not, but they sit more comfortably within the spectrum of deliciousness.