Making your own? Here are some tips from Pinyon's Dan Mirsky, who says "there aren't too many rules yet with beer cocktails."
"I usually shoot for six ounces of beer and one and a half ounces of your base spirit."
"Things that have complementary flavors work better than really trying to put together really disparate things."
"The Hops Not Tonic is a pretty simple cocktail when it comes right down to it: a nice citrus-forward IPA, a nice botanical style gin, something a little bit sweeter, squeezed grapefruit -- and anyone can make simple syrup."
6 oz IPA
1.5 oz gin
1 oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit
squeeze of lime
1/4 oz simple syrup
Colorado's beer culture gets a big assist from Colorado's weather. Sure, it's tougher to grow hops in the finest quadrilateral state in the nation than it is in Cascadia, but different beer styles are suited to different types of days, and the Front Range has meteorological variety down pat.
There's a reason, for example, that February brings Stout Month at Boulder's Mountain Sun Pub -- those rich, heavy brews take the edge off of a gnarly, taunting month when it feels as though winter might just have settled in forever. But please don't put a stout in front of me right now; it's Colorado Kolsch (Steamworks, Durango) season, Mama's Little Yella Pils (Oskar Blues, Lyons) season; Craft Lager (Upslope, Boulder) season; time for a craft brew that's light for reasons of both packing and digesting.
So what's a fella to do in case of a dragging, monotonous, interminable heat wave of -- gasp -- two or three weeks? One can't live on lagers alone, after all.
Aside from rotating in year-round hoppy favorites like Hazed and Infused (Boulder), it's time to mix it up with beer cocktails.
Easy to drink and fun to make, the beer cocktail conjures memories, real or imagined, of a lazy afternoon at a remote summer house, sitting on the porch after a dip in the pond, waiting for the crew to come back from town with supplies for dinner. Even the word shandy -- short for shandygaff, it's a general term for a beer cocktail without hard alcohol, generally with ginger ale or something else carbonated -- makes me want to shoo a high-class, tiny-cravat-wearing mosquito away.
But of course it's not like that in Boulder. It's just a different take on beer delivery.
"It's summertime, so it's what I'm drinking right now," says Emily Valenta, taproom manager at Twisted Pine Brewing Company, of the shandy. Twisted Pine's version blends their own Rocky Mountain Wheat with peach lemonade.
"Beermosas are always awesome," says Brian Hutchinson, brewer at the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, "you take a Belgian beer, a little bit of champagne and a little OJ."
He says he prefers Belgians, saisons and strong goldens in his beermosa for their strength, dryness and effervescence.
Dan Mirsky, bar manager at the Pinyon, counts a Hops Not Tonic among his signature cocktails and says he's actually got three beer cocktails that he's making regularly right now.
"I think they're great for the summertime because you can make up a higher-volume drink," he says. "Something cool to sip on."
While the Hops Not Tonic is essentially a gin and tonic where the tonic water is replaced with Racer 5 IPA, Mirsky says that he typically prefers to craft a beer cocktail based on an individual beer, rather than based on a more traditional cocktail, exploring "what would be fun other flavors to add to it, stretch out the flavors of the beer, add some dimension to it."
The others he's currently serving include a Hogtail, inspired by an Avery Brewing beer pairing dinner that Pinyon hosted, featuring Avery's Hog Heaven Barley Wine, Knob Creek Bourbon, Vya sweet vermouth, lemon and honey simple syrup; and something he's dubbed Cocktail 21, with Boulevard Brewing's Tank 7 farmhouse ale, house-infused Vodka14 (organic and Boulder-based) with cardamom, fresh lemon and simple syrup.
"The idea is putting Belgian spice notes into a Belgian-style beer," Mirsky says.
Prefer beer-flavored beer?
"But wait," you say. "Colorado's beer is perfect. Why would I water it down with anything?"
I hear you. If you want to mix it up without deigning to use a martini shaker or something -- who are you supposed to be, James Bond? -- there's always the art of blending beers. Take a lesson from the Mountain Sun, where blends like the Franklinberry (Franklin's Strong Golden Ale and Blackberry Wheat) and the popular Kind Crippler (Colorado Kind Ale and XXX) put a new spin on old favorites. The Kind Crippler has been around a while, too.
"I don't even know that I could put a date on it but I know it's been here longer than I have," says brewer Hutchinson of the blend, "so at least eight to 10 years."
If you're familiar with the Sun's brews, the trend is clear -- Hutchinson says that the blends typically put two extremes together to reach kind of a middle ground. The XXX ("Triple X" or "Crippler") is a 7.6-percent ABV beer with "extra malt, extra hops, extra yeast and extra love," according to the Sun's website, and it's frequently blended it with their more sessionable beers like Jah Mon Ginger (that one's called the Jinx). An exception: the Dirty Bird (Swan Song IPA and XXX).
"They're generally less inspired by the brewery, to be honest, and more inspired by the front of the house staff and our customers," says Mountain Sun brewer Brian Hutchinson. "Often when new beers come out, new mixes pop up."
And of course it's not limited to the Sun.
Twisted Pine's Valenta says that their Razzie Express blend (Raspberry Wheat and Espresso Stout) is popular enough that they occasionally bottle it.