Upon hearing the theme without the description last month, I was thinking of various ways to use more affordable options like Old Overholt Rye and gussy them up through using more expensive options like absinthe and liquours rather sparingly in dash format. However, with the full description, the route was clear: guests' leftovers from our parties. Two that came to mind were the part of a 12-pack of Heineken Premium Light beer from our Groundhog's Day Party last year and the half of a handle of Tanqueray from our Johnny Appleseed's Birthday Punch Bowl Party. While I like beer and gin, these two brands are not my go to choices and thus have sat there getting dusty. While brainstorming with Andrea, we came up with the concept of making beer (née Champagne) cocktails! Champagne and even sparkling wines and cavas (save for the glorious André option) are rather expensive, and in a down-turned economy, other options for sparkling wine ought to be researched. Also as an interesting note for the dieters out there, Heineken Light has 99 calories per 12 oz serving while the average Champagne has about that many calories in a 4 oz glass. Using Kim Haasarud's 101 Champagne Cocktails and CocktailDB.com as my two sources for this project, I collected a list of drinks I wanted to try making the beer versions. From there, I narrowed the list down to four: two from Haasarud's book, the classic French 75 and the new school Black Cherry Champagne cocktails, and two from the database, the Air Mail and the Sea Captain's Special.
The drink we started with was the French 75 which, given the beer selection's origin, got dubbed the Dutch 75. I did not have much hope for this drink since in my mind beer and gin should not mix. I was wrong.
Surprisingly, not bad at all... and actually rather good. The hops and carbonation in the beer worked well with the lemon juice to make a crisp drink with the right amount of sweetness. The cocktail had a slight beer nose but the ingredients made for a very pleasant flavor combination. So I was greatly surprised at how well gin and beer mixed together. Not sure if it would work with all beer choices, but with the Heineken Light, this drink was on the money! Grade: A/A-
• 1 oz Gin (the leftover Tanqueray)
• 1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
• 1/2 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 sugar:water ratio)
• Champagne (Heineken Light)
Shake the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Top off with the Champagne/beer, give a gentle stir, and garnish with a lemon twist.
The second drink was the Black Cherry Champagne Cocktail. I believe that when we were discussing the concept of beer cocktails, I thought of Miller High Life a/k/a "The champagne of beers" or better yet the defunct malt liquor Champale so we could make Champale Cocktails. However, I could not come up with a crafty Dutch name for this drink so I kept it with the original. The book's recipe had this drink as a highball drink but I scaled it down a notch to a champagne flute-sized version.
Black Cherry Champagne CocktailI thought this drink recipe looked a little sweet for me and pre-emptively thought of halving the simple syrup, but Andrea convinced me to stick to the recipe. Using Luxardo cherries (preserved in syrup) instead of fresh fruit also did not help with the sweetness level. The drink turned out to be not too bad and the hops did cut the sweetness back a bit (although not enough for my taste buds). Andrea thought drink was "sort of Lambic-y… over all not bad," and that maybe the choice of beers was fortuitous after all as it was very champagne like. Grade: B
• 2 Pitted Black Cherries (Luxardo Marasca cherries)
• 2/3 oz Cherry Heering
• 1/3 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
• 1/3 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio)
• Champagne (Heineken Light)
Muddle the cherries with the Cherry Heering, simple syrup, and juice. Add ice, shake, and strain into a champagne flute. Top off with Champagne/beer and give a quick stir.
The third drink we tried was the Air Mail. It stood out as a bit different since it used rum instead of gin or whiskey. Its use of lime made me hopeful that it would work with beer given the popularity of the Miller's limey Chelada, Budweiser's Bud Light Lime, and the ubiquitous lime wedges in Coronas. However, not all beers were created equal.
Air MailWow, the lime and beer did not work for me. Dutch beer is not the same as Mexican beer. After the first sip, the drink vaguely reminded Andrea of a (mintless) Mojito; she imagined that with a little muddled mint that it might be pretty good. She also thought that the beer brought out some pleasant earthiness in the rum. About half way through this highball, it got sinked. She declared that the drink needs work but has some promise, whereas I was less optimistic. Grade: C
• 1 1/2 oz Gold Rum (Mt. Gay Eclipse Rum)
• 3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
• 1 tsp Honey
• Champagne (again, Heineken Light)
Shake with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top off with Champagne/beer and give a quick stir.
Finally, the fourth drink we tried was the Sea Captain's Special – a drink I had the most hope for since whiskey and beer seemed a priori like the perfect marriage. I was not mistaken.
Sea Captain’s SpecialI ended up choosing a less spicy Maryland style rye, Pikesville (similar to Old Overholt), instead of a spicier Pennsylvania style, like Rittenhouse. With this drink, the hops in the beer blended right in with the spice notes in the bitters and pastis. The anise-seed flavor in the pastis was rather compatible with Heineken Light's hop selection. Moreover, the pastis formed a great louche halo over the drink akin to a Half Sinner-Half Saint cocktail. Andrea thought the drink was rather dry and delightful; however, it was not as tasty as the Dutch 75. Grade: A-/B+
• 1 1/2 oz Rye (Pikesville Rye)
• 1/2 tsp Sugar (1/2 tsp simple syrup)
• 2 dashes of Aromatic Bitters (Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters)
Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice.
• Champagne (Heineken Light)
• 1/4 oz Pastis (Le Pastis d’Autrefois)
Fill with Champagne and give a quick stir. Float the pastis.
In conclusion, this experiment of swapping out Champagne for the cheaper and currently very available bar reagent in our fridge of light beer was a success. Out of the four, we had two rather good drinks, one pretty decent but would have been too sweet regardless of the bubbly we chose drink, and one that just failed flavor-wise but might have worked with another beer choice drink. My google-fu puts the price of a 12 oz can of Heineken Light bought in a 12-pack at a dollar on sale and up to $1.33 at normal market value. Given that we made all four drinks with about a can and a half of beer, any of of these elegant drinks could be made for under a $1.50 per serving which is not a bad price for what might cost you $8-14 out on the town using the bar's choice of sparkling wine. I am indeed curious to hear if people have different successes and failures using other beer selections. Cheers from Fred and Andrea of CocktailVirgin!
1. The round-up of this month's MxMo entries has been posted! Check it out here.
2. Paul Clarke wrote a great article in Sfgate on bartenders who craft cocktails around the beer float for the qualities of the beer itself and not as a Champagne substitute, per se.