Philly is overflowing with beer, from the multitudes of local crafts to specialty brews from around the world. It’s not surprising, then, that the growing trend of beer cocktails – which sees bitters, syrups, juices and spirits combined with brews of all kinds – is quickly taking hold. If you haven’t yet had a chance to sample one of these creations, skepticism might arise, but in truth beer is not so different from sparkling wine (often a cocktail topper), or even from liquor itself.
The addition of spirits will change the texture and consistency of a regular brew, while suds can add unexpected zest and depth of flavor to a drink. Quite a variety of these novel sips can be found all over Philadelphia. We’ve picked five beer cocktails that are perfect for spring. Have you tried any? Let us know your favorites in the comments.
Red Velvet at Alla Spina
Beverage director Steve Wildy has been having immense fun building the audacious drink program for Marc Vetri’s new graffiti-decored birreria on North Broad, and nestled among selections of rare Italian brews, Tuscan wines and classic aperitifs is a menu section entitled “Shandyland.”
A standout is the Red Velvet, a play on the traditional British “black velvet” mix of a stout and champagne. Here, Flemish Sour Ale from Monk’s Cafe is sweetened with the addition of San Pellegrino Chinotto soda, given a herbal edge with Creme de Violette, shaken to a frothy mixture, and served up in a coupe. Almost purple in color, the drink goes down almost too easily, reminding of an extra-peppy cola with a floral aftertaste ($6).
Summer Beer Flip at The Dandelion
At Stephen Starr’s Rittenhouse ode to everything English, the classic flip cocktail (first invented by seafaring in Brits around 1695) gets an update with another U.K. favorite: ale. The Beer Flip you’ll find on the menu depends on the season – in warmer weather (starting this week, in fact), the summer version is served.
Bacardi rum is dosed with simple syrup, chocolate bitters, apricot marmalade and a whole raw egg (which has been stored in vodka), then shaken to a frothy blend. A tumbler filled with ice receives this mixture, which is then fluffed up even more with the addition of Victory Prima Pils. Fresh-grated cinnamon is the final garnish, gracing the edge away from you, so each sip includes a whiff of spice in the nose. Tart, refreshing eggnog in the springtime? Yes, please ($9).
Sour Flower Power at London Grill
A few years back, this Fairmount neighborhood standby hosted several acclaimed Belgian brewmasters for assorted Philly Beer Week events, and the topic of mixing brew with other ingredients repeatedly arose. Though the trend had not yet hit the U.S., the idea piqued the interest of head bartender Cristina Tessaro, who researched the concept and developed one of the city’s first beer cocktail lists.
Adapted from a recipe by Rodenbach head brewer Rudi Ghequire, the Sour Flower Power updates the brunch cocktail into something more substantial. A 12-oz. goblet is filled three-quarters of the way with bottle-conditioned Belgian lambic Boon Geuze, augmented with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, and then topped with champagne. This is a nuanced daytime drink that packs a punch ($11).
Hillbilly Gatorade at Percy Street Barbecue
Not all beer cocktails are fancy. At this Texas-inspired South Street ‘cue stop, the downhome feel of the Lone Star State pervades, from the paper-lined metal trays on which smoky brisket is smacked down unadorned to the serious list of bourbon and rye.
A similar aesthetic is evident in the Hillbilly Gatorade, a drink that manager Aric Ferrell says is most often first ordered on a dare, then happily embraced after a taste or two. A highball glass with ice is primed with pickle juice (natural electrolytes!) and a dash of housemade Old Faithful barbecue sauce, then topped with the contents of a just-cracked can of Miller High Life. The “champagne of beers” absorbs the savory flavors well, creating a sip that’s reminiscent of a carbonated Bloody Mary ($5).
Square Shandy at Square Peg
Perhaps the original beer cocktail, shandies have been enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries. Simply made by mixing beer with juice or ginger ale in equal portions, the version that travelled across the Atlantic and became a staple of the U.S. working class most commonly uses lemonade.
Wash West’s new Square Peg is focused on blue-collar American favorites, from chef Matt Levin’s updated diner eats to the all-domestic spirits list, so the shandy fits perfectly with the theme. Victory Lager meets fresh-squeezed lemonade in a healthy pint glass, providing a rejuvenating, highly-drinkable quaff that will keep you going all evening long ($6).