When beer is your job, you don’t necessarily want to go home and drink more beer. So it’s no shocker that on their down time, brewers like a stiff cocktail; it’s nice to just drink something and not pick it apart, not mentally measure its bitterness, not question its grain profile, not write tasting notes and pairing suggestions. But, then again, these are brewers: That’s exactly what they do.
And thank goodness, ’cause their compulsions have bred a slew of new cocktail beers; what a vicious, delicious cycle this is. Inspired by the ever-growing mixology movement, these beers are brewed to mimic mixed drinks. The base is beer (usually, but not always, a strong one), but then the brewer becomes a bartender, measuring in specific ingredients that seem like novelties until you actually taste how uncannily the final product resembles a cocktail.
For example, Washington State lager brewery Orlison skips hops entirely in favor of local bitters, and whiskey-barrel-ages the beer with orange peel; the result is 2 Finger Pour, an 8%-ABV clone of an Old Fashioned. New Jersey vanguard Carton Brewing replicated a Gin Rickey with a lush, fruited sour ale, and has a Tom Collins-inspired golden ale currently napping with oranges, cherries and souring bacteria in Jack Daniels barrels; founder Augie Carton says the beer will come out “when the bugs have taken it to that special place.”
And a little brewery you’ve probably never heard of in Asheville, N.C., Wicked Weed, makes an entire series of cocktail beers including a Bellini beer (made with 120 pounds of peaches and 110 pounds of prosecco grape must) and French 75 (another grape must-infused concoction, aged in Cardinal Gin barrels), in addition to the phenomenal Briars & Brett, a riff on a Gin Fizz. It and nine more are our favorite cocktail beers out right now.
Pipeworks/Longman & Eagle Brown & Stirred
For this beery interpretation of a Manhattan, Chicago’s Pipeworks and venerable gastropub Longman & Eagle began with a strong ale base brewed with rye, lemon peel and a little corn; after fermenting, the team added cherry puree, then macerated bittering roots like quinine, angelica and chinchona to echo cocktail bitters. The beer dives from a high lemon note straight into clean whiskey with a wonderfully sticky maraschino note at the end; it’s served over ice in a lowball (gasp!) with a lemon twist. If you can’t track down a bottle, be patient: Half of the brew is aging in rye whiskey barrels for re-release this winter.
Perennial The Last Word
A Prohibition-era cocktail of gin, lime, chartreuse and maraschino inspired this collab between St. Louis star brewery Perennial and plush Chicago cocktail bar The Aviary. Earthy-sweet botanical notes hearken the booze, while lime injects the brew with sunny sourness.
Center of the Universe El Duderino
Maybe the creamiest beer ever, this viscous 8%-ABV White Russian ringer starts milky and vanilla-ish until firm roast brings the beer back to stout.
Forbidden Root Sublime Ginger
Zingy lime, earthy ginger and herbs make this sunny, soft wheat beer the ideal bottle for the Moscow Mule crowd.
Wicked Weed Briars & Brett
This gin fizz riff is a head-turner: A creamy rush exudes gin flavor from lemon zest and basil in the brew, and a nap in Cardinal Gin barrels; spunky Brettanomyces yeast and berries read sweet in the back, but the beer’s only soft, never sour.
Spiteful Absinthe Barrel-Aged Klutzy Baffoon Saison with Cherries
This charmer’s only 5.8% ABV, but it bleeds licoricey absinthe flavor; saison tang and berry sweetness act as the sugar cube.
Short’s Whiskey Sour
Every once in a while, the Michigan brewery ages its tart Key Lime Pie beer (you can almost taste the crust!) in bourbon barrels; the result’s a ringer for a whiskey sour.
To replicate a cherry-lime gin Rickey, the Jersey brewery shakes up a creamy, tart Berliner-weisse-esque sour with additions of lime, cherry and juniper berries.
Orlison 2 Finger Pour
The lager-only brewery’s take on an Old Fashioned is this 8% sipper brewed with orange, “hopped” with bitters and aged in whiskey barrels. A pop of sweet makes you search your glass for a sugar cube.
Only on tap at the Charlotte brewery, this sessionable spin on a mojito (it’s just 4.8% ABV!) infuses a Belgian-style witbier with lime zest and mint.