Beyond the boilermaker

MIXING IT UP: Bartender Jack Ouellette crafts nine creative beer-and-liquor combinations at Jack of the Wood. Photo by Jayson Im
MIXING IT UP: Bartender Jack Ouellette crafts nine creative beer-and-liquor combinations at Jack of the Wood. Photo by Jayson Im

Asheville takes on the beer cocktail

On any given night in Asheville, people are mixing up their beer and booze, usually in the form of shots and chasers. But there’s a more refined way to enjoy the hoppy yumminess of a brew and the bite of liquor than by dropping a shot of Irish whiskey into a Guinness, and that’s with a beer cocktail. No, not a beer and a cocktail. A cocktail made with beer.

Although mixing suds and spirits in one drink might not seem like a natural fit, there are some adventurous bartenders around town who are experimenting — successfully — with the concoctions.

By far, one of the largest (if not the largest) selections of beer cocktails can be found at Jack of the Wood. The downtown bar serves a total of nine of the unlikely mixtures, including the traditional British pub staple known as the snakebite (cider mixed with lager), a shandy made with lager and Sprite and the black forest, which features porter or Guinness with a shot of Chambord.

Not being one to back down in the face of an unusual drink, I ordered up the intimidating-sounding Jack’s special composed of Green Man Porter with Johnny Walker Black, creme de cacao and Grand Marnier. I was pleasantly surprised. The ingredients blended nicely to create a drink akin to a Yoo-hoo mixed with root beer. It might not be everyone’s cup of, um, beer and booze, but I really enjoyed it. It was definitely the cocktail world’s version of comfort food and would go great on a chilly night.

Now that spring’s here though, bartender Jack Ouellette says, “we’re hoping to segue to lighter versions of beer cocktails in the summer months with more of the Alagash White and lighter beers involved.”

Another brave beer cocktail purveyor is Wicked Weed, which seems logical considering it has a bar above its on-site brewery. The bar offers the pale mary, a blend of Wicked Weed Ale, Smirnoff vodka and bloody mary mix; the beergarita, a Belgian ale with Cuervo Gold tequila, lime and sour mix; and the Belgian collins, a mix of Belgian ale, Tanqueray gin and sour mix.

Being a porter fan, I tried the fourth drink on the list: the porter covered cherry. This features a glass of rich dark porter spiked with Jim Beam Red Stag, a bourbon infused with a hint of black cherry. The blend definitely lived up to its name; the drink actually had a mellow cherry tinge, and the chocolatey notes of the porter rose to the fore. It would be a great way to end a night — especially a cool one sitting around Wicked Weed’s outdoor fire.

At The Junction, bartender Courtney Foster is taking a much subtler approach to blending beer and booze. She makes ice balls out of beer and floats them in well-constructed cocktails. The result is that you control the taste of your drink by swirling the sphere around and letting it dissolve either quickly or slowly using the tool she provides you with — a swizzle stick.

I tried a Some like It Hot with mescal, habanero simple syrup, lemon and cilantro poured over a torch Pilsner beer ice sphere. The drink really brought out the greener side of mescal with its smoky notes blending nicely with the sharp tang of the lemon and warmth of the pepper. Also on offer as special the night I went was Two Guys Walk Into a Bar, a mix of gin, cucumber, lemon, Dale’s Pale Ale and a poblano pepper. Foster’s approach to using beer as a cocktail ingredient is definitely emblematic of a new way of thinking about suds, which comes as no surprise in a town as beer-soaked as ours.

 

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