In the middle of winter, perhaps with some snow swirling outside the windows, I find it hard to keep my eyes only on the beer fridge … they tend to drift a bit toward the bar cart, where a warm dram of whiskey or aged rum could act as a stomach-insulating nip.
Maybe brewers had the same thought. A new crop of cocktail-inspired beers debuts this winter, inspired by liqueurs and drinks from Pimm’s to Fernet Branca. The challenge for brewers emulating such distinctive flavors is to make beers that are evocative of the spirits, but maintain a harmonious beer backbone to support the botanicals, herbs, fruit and spices. Here are three to curl up with when the temperatures dip—or, in the case of Hi-Wire/NOLA’s Pimm’s Cup Berliner Weisse, when the snow starts to thaw.
Forbidden Root Fernetic
Inspired by: Fernet Branca
For the uninitiated, Fernet Branca is an Italian amaro made from a proprietary recipe of 27 botanicals and herbs. It’s bitter, a touch spicy and quite botanical. (In this reporter’s mind, it’s delicious.) It’s also a favorite shot of bartenders and some brewers for its relatively low proof and stomach-settling properties. The collaboration between Chicago’s Forbidden Root brewpub and the Branca family begins with a chance encounter: Eduardo Branca walked into their brewpub when Forbidden Root happened to have CherryTree Amaro beer on tap. That beer was also an homage to amaro, and Branca was impressed. He agreed to a collaborative beer, and months later, Fernetic was born. Some of the bold ingredients in Fernetic (gentian, rhubarb root, bay leaf, saffron, wormwood, angelica root) could be a disaster in an inexperienced brewer’s hands; luckily, botanical beer is what Forbidden Root hangs its hat on. Brewery partner Randy Mosher researched ingredients and created tinctures of herbs and botanicals that the crew used to mock up what it might want the final beer to taste like. Once those were dialed in, brewers created a pilot batch; post-fermentation, it was time to add the trickiest, final ingredient: peppermint. “Peppermint is pretty intense, and it’s one of those flavors that everybody knows. Everybody brushes their teeth, right? And it’s not always welcome in beer,” says Forbidden Root head brewer BJ Pichman. “Mint is a pain in the ass, so we knew we’d have to meter that out post-ferment.” The result is a dark but not roasty “imperial black ale” layered with herbal, rootlike flavors and a smudge of mint; look for it in bottles and on draft at the brewpub now.
Pipeworks/Longman & Eagle Brown & Stirred
Inspired by: The Manhattan
Chicago brewery Pipeworks collaborated with Chicago restaurant/bar Longman & Eagle on the first batch of Brown & Stirred in 2014, inspired by the top-notch Manhattans served by the Logan Square neighborhood restaurant. “It would be almost impossible to create something that tasted exactly like a Manhattan so we take the approach of taking those flavors as inspiration and then making the best possible beer we can based on those flavors,” says Pipeworks’ barrel master Mike Schallau. That translated to a strong rye ale, brewed with a portion of corn in the grist (Longman & Eagle’s Manhattan is made with Wild Turkey 101, which contains 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye and 12 percent barley); plus dried lemon peel (Longman’s Manhattan garnish is a lemon twist); tart cherries; and cinchona bark and allspice added just before packaging. “The cinchona bark is a classic ingredient in amari and vermouths that provides a clean and slightly tannic bitterness, and the allspice is the overwhelming characteristic of Angostura bitters,” Schallau says. “[Brewer] Kate [Brankin] had been homebrewing for years with these types of ingredients and she really nails the balance every time.” There’s a batch of Brown & Stirred in the tanks at Pipeworks currently, and a barrel-aged version, aged in a blend of Willett rye, Rittenhouse Rye and Dad’s Hat Vermouth-finished rye barrels, is about two months from release.
Hi-Wire/NOLA Pimm’s Berliner Weisse
Inspired by: The Pimm’s Cup
Dreaming of warmer days, Hi-Wire head brewer Luke Holgate and NOLA Brewing’s Dylan Lintern teamed up to create a kettle-soured Berliner weisse reminiscent of ubiquitous New Orleans cocktail, The Pimm’s Cup. Pimm’s makes a few varieties of liqueurs but is best known for Pimm’s No. 1, which forms the base of a refreshing Pimm’s Cup when mixed with orange and lemon slices, mint, cucumber slices and ginger ale or lemon-lime soda. “The challenge was trying to balance the flavors, which involved trying a lot of Pimm’s and Pimm’s cups,” Holgate says. “Our Berlinwer [weisse] has a lemon/lime character from the kettle souring so that fit well as the “mixer” component; then we added a lot of orange peel, some star anise and some juniper to replicate the spirit, plus cucumber in the brite tank to brighten it up.” Look for it in Hi-Wire’s collaboration mixed 12-pack that will hit shelves around the second week of February. “It’s an ode to the Pimm’s cup rather than a beer that’s like ‘Oh I can’t believe it’s not Pimm’s,'” Holgate says. “But like a Pimm’s Cup, it’s fun and bright and easy-drinking.”