5 Popular Beer Cocktails for Summer
I've always been a beer guy. It's the everyman's drink, it's easy to understand, it tastes good, and as far as summer drinks go, it doesn't get much more refreshing. That's part of why I've been hesitant to warm up to cocktails as I've gotten older. Don't get me wrong—I really like the good ones, but I'm usually comically lost when reading a cocktail's list of ingredients on a menu. More often than not, I cling to one or two things I know I like and hope for the best.
So, in summer's glorious patio and day-drinking weather, what does a beer lover like me do to bridge the divide between the old standby and the foreign world of mixed drinks? Start with beer cocktails. As Brandon Phillips, master bartender at Chicago's Otto Mezzo and The Duck Inn, told me, they're easier to whip up at home than you might think. Along with boiling down Brandon's tips into five characteristics that make up a great beer cocktail, I've included recipes for drinks that can easily be made at home—no bartending experience required.
Tip #1: A good beer cocktail doesn't require much, but you can't go wrong with bitters.
When making your own beer cocktails, the good news is that there's a decent chance you already own just about everything you need. In fact, some beer cocktails are as simple as pouring one drink into another. "[For] a really delicious, three-ingredient daquiri, you don't need a blender like with a real daquiri. That poured into a hefeweizen would be spectacular," Brandon says.
One thing you will need, though? Bitters. These potent extracts added by the drop to cocktails can go a long way toward making liquor and beer mesh into something delicious, according to Brandon. "As with most cocktails, bitters are kind of that great bridging ingredient ... finding a bitters that mimic the path you're going or bridges those two flavors is really your best bet."
Drink #1: Beer Mimosa with Orange Bitters
You might not always have bubbly stocked in the fridge, but beer and OJ are pretty ordinary commodities. Swap out the champagne for a wheat beer, which will make a harmonious blend with the juice and dashes of bitters.
- 12 oz. hefeweizen or wheat beer, such as Blue Moon
- 4–6 oz. orange juice
- 2–3 drops of orange bitters
Simply pour the beer and orange juice into a pint glass, then finish it off with a couple drops of bitters on top and stir.
Tip #2: Nothing's off-limits, but follow your gut.
More good news for the at-home beer-cocktail artist? You can feel free to experiment. "I'm not a believer in no-nos," Brandon says before adding the simple caution to follow your instinct when putting a drink together. "What I think generally works well is if it just generally makes sense to you, it usually works." So if you're intrigued by the idea of what a mai tai with a splash of IPA might taste like, go for it.
Drink #2: IPA Mai Tai
A classic, easy-drinking tiki cocktail, the mai tai's focus on lime, orange, and other citruses makes it a perfect match for an IPA's crisp taste and hints of fruit.
- 2 oz. IPA beer (Tip: Many IPAs come with fruity variations, such as Ballast Point's Pineapple Sculpin, that will nicely match this drink's citrusy profile.)
- 1 oz. light rum
- 1 oz. dark rum
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup
- 1/2 oz. orange curaçao
Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, strain, serve in a cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange or pineapple wedge.
Tip #3: Look for citrusy flavor notes.
It might seem obvious, but looking for fresh, citrusy flavors like orange or grapefruit is sometimes a crucial step in pulling off a great summer beer cocktail. "I like to pull specific flavor notes of specific styles of beer and then think about the spirits or liqueurs that I'm working with," Brandon says. "Pulling citrus notes, to me, can be one of the quickest, easiest ways for the home bartender [to do that]," Brandon says.
Drink #3: Lemon-Lime Michelada
The michelada, a staple summer beer cocktail, is sort of like the angry version of an easy-drinking Mexican lager. The beauty of this drink is that you can easily fine-tune its spiciness to match your palate's tolerance and taste, and this recipe's lemon bitters and lime juice make a great pairing with its crisp, cool beer.
- Mexican lager, such as Corona
- 2–3 oz. lime juice
- 1–2 drops lemon bitters
- Hot sauce, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
Pour the beer and lime juice into a pint glass. Stir and add drops of hot sauce and twists of black pepper to your taste, then add the lemon bitters and stir once more.
Tip #4: Swap out ingredients with others that are similar.
Once you've identified some of the flavors going on in your ingredients, you can start getting creative. Brandon often goes the route of swapping out ingredients for others with similar flavor profiles. "In the case of say, a paloma, you could easily switch out the grapefruit [soda] for a radler or something of that nature ... that's a simple play that you can start off with," he says.
Drink #4: Radler Paloma
Let's not overthink this one. Brandon's recommendation for a paloma—one of the simplest cocktails in terms of its ingredients—is the perfect opportunity to swap in a favorite radler or shandy.
- Grapefruit radler beer, such as Stiegl-Radler Grapefruit
- 2 oz. tequila
- 1–2 tablespoons lime juice
Pour and mix all the ingredients into a pint glass and garnish with a lime wedge.
Tip #5: Don't be afraid to ad-lib.
During my interview with him, Brandon dictated a beer-cocktail recipe completely off the cuff. Yes, he's a master bartender, but the point is this: it's a lot easier than you think to get creative and mix up your own signature beer cocktail (just make sure you follow some of his other tips).
Drink #5: The Gaarden Hoe
When I asked Brandon to whip together a drink based on gin and Hoegaarden Belgian wheat beer, this is what he came up with.
- 3/4 oz. Merlet Trois Citrus triple sec
- 1 oz. Fords gin
- 1/2 oz. Giffard Crème de Mure blackberry liqueur
- 1/2 oz. fresh lemon
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- 3 dashes Bittermens orange-cream citrate
- Roughly 4 oz. Hoegaarden Belgian wheat beer
Mix and shake all but the Hoegaarden in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour into a cocktail glass and top it with the Hoegaarden.