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Food and Drink Features

Dr. Strangebrew

It may not replace that perfect porter, but beer cocktails abound in town. You just need to stop being pretentious.

Charles Martin March 30th, 2011

After 13 years as a legal member of the church of good beer, dumping a bunch of mixers and spirits into a perfectly crafted brew seems blasphemous.

But in the interest of objective journalism, I set out on a three-day tour of beer cocktails, just to see if I was unjustly writing off the work of a new generation of mixologists.

“The kind of people we target with these beer cocktails are those that don’t drink a lot of beer,” said Randy Newberry, manager at Republic Gastropub. “That’s why beer drinkers shouldn’t be offended by them, because we are opening it up to people who don’t drink beer and getting them interested.”

Republic Gastropub, 5830 N.Classen Blvd., has an extensive beer menu, from the standard-bearers of craft and import beer (like Chimay and Anchor), to the obscure and local. Republic is also reformulating its menu to include some cocktails to tempt virgin taste buds and win new converts with offerings such as the German Chocolate, made with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Frangelico, Malibu coconut rum and Stolichnaya vanilla vodka.

above Edna’s Shelly Bergman drops a shot of whiskey into beer to create a boilermaker.

The kind of people we target with these beer cocktails don’t drink a lot of beer.

—Randy Newberry

For fans of fruit-flavored libations, Republic’s cider sangría is made with Wyder’s pear cider, Cointreau, Disaronno amaretto and Pinot Grigio — yes, a cider mixed with wine. The Peachy Keen is made with Lindemans Pecheresse (that’d be peach), orange juice and Absolut Mandrin to mimic the fuzzy navel. Finally, there is a raspberry cooler with Lindemans Framboise (raspberry) and red wine, similar to a wine cooler.

“There are beer mixes that have been around forever, like black and tans and Snakebites,” Newberry said. “Incorporating alcohol and wine is pretty new. You could use pretty much any beer, but for a good cocktail, you want a beer that can stand up and marry well with other flavors. Beers with a pretty distinct flavor work best.”

Perhaps the most locally famous beer cocktail is the Lunchbox, proudly served at Edna’s Restaurant & Club, 5137 Classen Circle. Located amidst a strip of clubs and bars running from Classen to Western, Edna’s has stood out for years as a neighborhood bar that still manages to pull in metro customers.

“What keeps people coming back are the Lunchboxes,” said bartender Star Whitson. “It’s our signature drink, and we make it with a mug of Coors Light with a shot of amaretto inside and a splash of orange juice on top. It’s only $4, so good bang for your buck, and we sell a mad amount of those.”

Lunchboxes will make even the most pretentious palate receptive to a domestic beer. Like many beer cocktails, it is easy to drink with relatively low alcohol content.

For the at-home bartender, most beer cocktails are pretty simple to make, like the aforementioned black and tan (equal parts stout and lager) and the Snakebite (equal parts cider and lager), but only the Snakebite’s taste was even close to being as interesting as its component parts.

For cider fans, there are other options, like the Broken Leg (cider with a shot of whiskey) and the Stone Fence (cider with a shot of dark rum). The Broken Leg’s whiskey shot gave the cider a nice sharpness, but the Stone Fence was completely overwhelmed by the dark rum and tasted medicinal.

The Black Velvet, made with a combination of stout and sparkling wine, was sour and, frankly, a waste of good beer. Sparkling wine with cider, on the other hand, was an approachable mix of tart and sweet and would be a good party drink.

The Bloody Mary beer (Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix plus lager garnished with celery and asparagus) was a complete failure, as the lager was almost nonexistent, making the concoction basically just a glass of V8.

The big wins were the classic Boilermaker (lager with a shot of whiskey), a heavy, potent drink where the flavors of the whiskey and the lager complement each other nicely, and the Black Diplomat, which paired blackstrap rum and stout. Both the rum and the stout held up well, with the caramel notes of the rum complementing the yeastiness of the beer in a way that called to mind the taste of fresh-baked dark bread.

While beer cocktails haven’t replaced an abbey ale or a smoked porter on my list of favorites, they are an excellent introduction to beer for the novice, and can make for an interesting night of experimentation for even the staunchest beer lover.

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