Spiked & Spiced

Neil McInnes conjures up some beer cocktails for the tail-end of winter.

Winter is fully upon us and it’s the time for winter warmers – strong, malty brews like bocks and barley wines, and rich dark porters and stouts. Winter’s also a good time for beer cocktails too, particularly those fortified with spirits and highlighted with spices.

Many nations have their beer and spirit combinations with interesting nicknames and associated drinking rituals. The boilermaker is an American tradition of a glass of lager or pale ale with a shot of bourbon or rye whiskey drunk alongside or poured in. The Depthcharge is a British version with a shot glass of Drambuie whisky liqueur dropped into a pint of ale so you progressively drink a stronger, sweeter beer. The Dutch have a combination that translated is called Little Headbutt – a little glass of genever gin drunk with a pilsner. According to American beer writer Jacob Grier, young Bavarians are drinking the Laternmass which is a stemmed glass of cherry liqueur lowered into a stein of lager.

Beer and spirit combinations are endless and a little experimenting is a fun way to while away the winter evenings. Combinations I have tried include Islay whisky and stout, manuka honey vodka with a malty dark lager or porter, and cider with a good caramelly rum. It pays to note that adding a single 30ml standard spirit to 335ml of beer will raise the alcohol by volume of the total drink by around 3 per cent.

Adding spices to your beer cocktail adds more depth of flavour to the final drink. One example of this dates from 19th century America and is a spiced and spiked snakebite appropriately called Bang. Add a small amount of grated fresh ginger and a pinch of nutmeg to a single bourbon in a large beer glass, top with equal parts ale and cider.

Another winter beer tradition is warmed mixed drinks. Wassail, possets and flips were popular before the industrialisation of beer production and were a key part of the traditional drinking cultures of Europe and colonial America. Many of these hot helpers are a bit elaborate to make and include ingredients like roasted apples, eggs and cream. In addition, using modern, highly-hopped ales doesn’t work as the heat over-accentuates the bitterness and makes them challenging for even hardcore lupulin fans. Best to use a malty English ale or a honey ale.

One of these mulled ale drinks is called Gossip’s Cup in some recipe books. Heat 350ml of ale in a saucepan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and a pinch each of ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg. Don’t boil, but heat over a medium heat to around 60 degrees or when it’s just hot enough to drink. Pour into a warmed mug over a thin slice of orange and adouble cognac or brandy. Believe me after one of these you’ll spill the beans.

Finally, for all you home brewers out there: the Hot Scotchy. This is a double scotch whisky added to a half pint of hot, sweet wort (before the hops have been boiled in). Use a good blended whisky or an unpeated single malt. Yes, it’s very sweet, but it’s also very moreish. If you’ve been watching Masterchef too much you may even want to put a dollop of whipped cream on the top.

Back to The Pursuit of Hoppiness: Spring 2016

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