Mixology Talk Podcast, Episode #173

We’re trying something a little different for the month of March… Beer cocktails! Chris is talking with bartender Chris Krause about some techniques for getting beer on your cocktail menu. Tune in for some great tips and tricks for working with beer in cocktails, and some fun advice on cocktail service in general.

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Meet Chris Krause

Chris started working the bar while he was in the Army, stationed outside of Frankfurt, Germany.  He was transferred to El Paso, TX, and became head bartender at a Tequila bar there. After a ten-year stint, he left the Army and started tending and managing bars in and around the Chicago area.  He then began consulting for bars and restaurants, opening locations in Louisville KY, Orland Park, IL, and Chicago, IL as a bar consultant and manager. He is currently back behind the bar at Lucca’s Pizzeria in La Grange, IL. as he works on his photography business, specializing in food and beverage photography in the Chicago area.

Instagram: @thealcoholchemist Website: photonicpaints.com

Interview Highlights

If you are looking for beer cocktail inspiration, use these timestamps to skip ahead:

  • 0:58– Chris Krause’s background in beer cocktails
  • 2:34– Best way to start with beer cocktails: Concentrates
  • 8:30– Beer syrups
  • 13:37– Specialty glassware
  • 20:38– Cocktail families with beer cocktails (More at 27:42)
  • 24:55– Beer as a main ingredient 
  • 29:00– Beer styles and specific ingredients (and foam!) / Focus on local breweries
  • 39:09– Ingredients & techniques to avoid
  • 41:20– Chris Krause’s best beer cocktail / What to do 
  • 45:35– Advice in developing your cocktail program
  • 48:14– Chris Krause’s worst beer cocktail experience / What not to do

Getting Started: Beer Concentrates and Syrups

Despite beer predating spirits, Chris K. points out that we haven’t really explored many ways to use beer in cocktails like we have other ingredients. I think when a lot of people think of “beer cocktails” they assume it’s just a beer-based drink with something extra added into it. But Chris K. offers a twist that surprised me: instead of the traditional Michelada or boilermaker, he suggested another way to incorporate beer into cocktails: via beer syrups

“When you take the alcohol out of something or at least the majority of it by reducing it and adding sugars, when you taste that syrup by itself, it tells you things about that beer that you probably didn’t already know. […] When you pull the heat out of that IPA and add a little bit of sugar and then you just put it in a glass, taste it with some soda water is the first thing you’re going to do. You’re going to get notes off that beer that you didn’t know existed in that beer because they were being hidden and your palette couldn’t find them through the heat of the beer.” –Chris Krause

Beer Syrups & Concentrates

Reducing the alcohol through a beer concentrate or syrup allows you to add beer flavor without adding more ABV (if you haven’t already, check out our 2020 trends podcast talking about low-ABV cocktails). If you simply add beer to a cocktail, you’re going to have trouble controlling the overall ABV, but this gives you more flexibility for flavor.

As Chris K. explains, guests aren’t just at your bar to get drunk! It’s all about the experience now, about tasting a variety of different options. But you can’t responsibly serve six drinks if you’re not limiting the ABV, after all. Better yet, you can use the syrup to build the cocktail’s complexity with the existing ingredients (without adding more alcohol.)

So Chris K. gives us two ways to make a beer syrup:

  • Boil the beer into a concentrate (evaporate the beer down to about half for a much more concentrated flavor with less alcohol, and then use that concentrate as the liquid for your simple syrup in a 1:1 ratio– we’ll cover this even more in our next podcast).
  • Use the beer directly as the liquid for your simple syrup in a 1:1 ratio.  

Bring on the (Beer) Flavor:

Just like other flavored syrups, beer syrup provides both flavor and sweetness. And just like other flavored syrups, you can adjust the sweetness to play with the level of flavor you’d like to incorporate. For example, if you use less sugar, you can use more syrup in a given cocktail and as a result introduce more beer flavor. (And of course, the opposite is true.) You’ll still get the viscosity from the reduction and the sugar, but with more flavor.

Depending on what you’re using the syrup for, you’ll want to choose specific types of beers to blend with the other ingredients, and you may add more or less syrup depending on what you’re replacing or working with. Don’t worry, we’ll explain more about beer styles below.

Hint: Avoid Lemons & Limes

Chris K. recommends avoiding citrus as acid in your beer cocktails, as they tend to mess with the beer’s nuanced flavors. Instead he recommends using malic acid or citric acid for a citrus component.

Benefits of Beer Syrups

  • Making a syrup allows you to better understand the flavors of the beers you’re working with and then add them into your cocktails. The syrup has more complexity to it than a regular simple syrup because of those rich flavors. 
  • By prepping beer syrups ahead of time, you can reduce the touches you have to put into the cocktail in front of your customers. This helps you avoid getting behind on your tickets.
  • Prepping beforehand and reducing the steps that go into your cocktails also gives you more time to talk with your customers! Besides enhancing the customer experience, you will probably go home with more money in your pocket at the end of the night.

Like with everything in bartending, Chris K. reiterates that it comes down to being purposeful:

“Every choice that I make in that cocktail, I want to make that decision for a reason […] We taste things with our eyes, then we taste things with our nose, and then finally we taste things-taste things. […] Every single step of that process including the syrups, and especially the syrups because that’s where you’re getting a lot of your aromatics from, should have that kind of intent involved.”

“Beertails” & Other Beer Cocktail Families:

What makes a drink a “beertail” as opposed to a cocktail made with beer? According to Chris K:

“Anything that is mostly beer plus X ingredient probably just  belongs to the beertail family. And I feel like that is a different family than when you’re integrating a beer into an existing type of cocktail. […] I think any cocktail family can be beer-focused. […] Beer has this cool propensity to be anything you want it to be.”

In general, beer cocktails are considered by guests as having beer as the driving force. Chris K.’s take is that, if you’re adding a beer element into a cocktail, then it just belongs to that existing cocktail family. 

Cocktail Families that Blend Well with Beer

Depending on seasonality and what beer you work with, beers tend to blend well with the sour cocktail family, according to Chris K. He also talks about making a gin fizz with James Page Brewing’s Casper White Stout on nitro that sounds amazing! I highly recommend jumping to minute 21:40 to hear more about that– and for Chris’ tip on using a blender to make your fizzes (so you can save your shoulder that 12-minute shake!)

Successfully Using Beer as the Main Ingredient

  • Pay attention to your garnish. You don’t want it to look like you just served a beer on ice!
  • Try adding different spirits and juices, depending on what type of beer you’re using. (Just make sure it’s more than a beer and that the additions are purposeful.)
  • Add a cream or foam to a traditional beertail. (Idea: St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and Chris K. suggested a super yummy-sounding Jameson and stout (almost like a boilermaker) with hand-piped cinnamon and clove whipped cream.)

What it comes down to is making the drink your own. Give your guests a little bit more than they expect, think outside the box, and don’t be afraid to try new combinations.

But What About Coupling Beer Styles & Ingredients?

There are two main things to consider when working with any cocktail: seasonality and cost. And it seems pretty intuitive that the beers you drink seasonality often work best with the cocktails you drink seasonally. Here are some examples I personally can’t wait to try:

Stouts: Make a stout syrup for an Old Fashioned in the fall and winter. Stouts and darker ales often have an inherent sweetness, which makes them work well in cocktails.

Sours and Goses: With more citrus and salinity, these beers will help you skip extra steps since they naturally offer more acid and salt. They also work pretty much year rong, making them a more versatile option.

Lagers and Brown Ales: Chris K. warns that these are tricky beers to work with because of the malt flavor. BUT he does suggest one fun way to use them: foams!

  • Using your iSi dispenser, combine citric acid or lemon juice, egg white, a little bit of sweetener, and beer to create a foam.
  • You can add this on top of a cocktail and add the beer flavor that way without actually mixing beer into the drink! This brings texture and a multi-layered experience to your guests.

Because seasonality drives the pairings with beer and cocktails, Chris K. emphasizes relying on local breweries for the freshest ingredients.

Let’s Recap: How to Make it Right!

Now that we know a little more about beers and what might work, here are some final tips from Chris K. on how to make your beer cocktail program super successful:

Explore Beer Syrups, Foams, and Beer Flavors

Add complexity with beer syrups to overcome the plain flavor of a base spirit like vodka, for example. Beers are really complex and nuanced, so take advantage of that. Chris K. explains a syrup he just developed from Half Acre Beer Company’s Daisy Cutter pale ale (jump to 41:20 to hear all about it), pairing it with gooseberries and Bittermens hopped grapefruit bitters for a really unique flavor experience. 

  • Remember that prepping syrups and foams beforehand cuts down on your serving time and steps behind the bar.
  • Garnish with a purpose! If you’re adding fruit or mint on top, make sure it is not just beautiful, but enough to be aromatic. 

Make it Your Own

It’s easy to Google or borrow something from another bar, but really think outside the box to take your beer cocktail to the next level. Try every liquid behind the bar so you don’t miss a flavor opportunity.

Local Breweries

Because hops degrade over time and with exposure to light, you want to minimize the time between the bottling process and opening that bottle of beer. So Chris K. suggests finding a local brewery and filling up your growler of their fresh beer to use in your cocktails. Working with a local brewery has a couple other benefits:

  • The brewery is going to be working with seasonal ingredients, too, so you’ll find a fresh beer that works with your seasonal cocktail menu.
  • You’re helping another small business… that’s a win-win for everyone!
  • By filling up growlers vs. buying separate bottles and cans, you’re helping with sustainability by eliminating that extra waste!
  • The fresher the beer you can get for a syrup, the more intricate the flavors will be. So go straight to the source!

Cocktail Tips: Glassware

Alright, so this isn’t really about beer specifically, but both Chrises (Chris T & K) talk a lot about glassware, so it seems a shame not to mention it. The right glassware definitely matters when you’re putting together that “craft” drink.

“There’s something to be said for when you build a truly beautiful cocktail and it walks across the floor to a table, and you know that your next ticket is going to have three of those cocktails on it, you know you did something right.” — Chris Krause

Because the cocktail you serve tells a story to your guests and we humans are such visual creatures, why not take the extra step of making that drink look extra special? Hit up a thrift shop and see if you can find a set of unique glassware that will make your customers want to put that cocktail on Instagram (and give you free advertising!). 

When the cocktail you serve looks beautiful, your customer is already happy. It’s all part of the experience, and psychology matters. So go that extra step to make sure your cocktail is truly unique.

Beer Cocktail Fails: Things to Avoid

We’ve covered a lot of tips for what you should do when making beer cocktails, but here are a few more thoughts on mistakes to avoid. According to Chris K.,  

“There’s a home for every type of beer behind the bar, if you’re willing to look for that home. […] Once your palette is developed to the point where you know what you can expect out of that beer, then you know what you can’t expect out of that beer, too. You know there’s going to be more delicate flavors and there’s going to be more robust flavors.”

So the lesson is to experiment! Be willing to fail and figure out what works. But here are just a couple things to consider when developing your beer cocktails:

  • Cost: Can you afford to make this beer ingredient? Generally, if you go to a local brewery and grab a growler of beer, you can keep your costs pretty low (depending on the beer type, the volume you plan to do, and how much of the beer you’ll use in each cocktail).
  • Avoid delicate beers and think about how the beer you do use is going to apply to your cocktail. You don’t want to lose that beer element by covering it up completely!
  • When developing your beer cocktail, be careful about the time and beer it takes… You don’t just want to waste beer! The more you understand flavor pairings, the more efficient you’ll get at developing your beer cocktails. 
  • Well, this should go without saying, but use fresh ingredients! Chris K. tells the most revolting story about ordering a beer cocktail involving room-temperature shrimp and old bacon. I’ll let him explain it because I just can’t do justice to the horror of it (jump to 48:12 to hear about the worst Michelada ever). 

What are you mixing?

That’s a wrap! Another huge thank you to Chris K. for coming on the podcast and chatting with Chris about this great topic. And for the sake of avoiding future confusion, I think I’m going to say we can never have another guest named Chris! (Kidding, kidding…)

Definitely share how you’re using beer in your cocktails – join us in our Facebook Group and show off your drinks! I’d love to see what you’re mixing and especially if you’ve had any luck experimenting with the methods we discussed today.

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