At Boundary Road, H Street’s new Brooklyn-esque den of exposed brick and farm-to-table hanger steaks, the Five & Dime cocktail begins with a squeeze-bottle squirt of translucent goo. When I ordered one recently, a bartender shook the egg white with artisanal root beer liqueur and maple syrup, strained the mixture into a glass, added malty Otter Creek porter and placed it on the bar. My neighbor eyed it as if afraid it might scuttle into his lap. “Beer and egg,” he said.
But it tasted great: a smooth, sweet, herbal riff on a root beer float, with a milkshake-like head and lingering flavors of coffee and roasted barley. It was also a prime example of how Washington-area bartenders have been increasingly blurring the line between craft beer and craft cocktails, turning out drinks with enough creativity and variety to please the beer-obsessed while wooing the beer-indifferent.
Beer cocktails aren’t new to the District. Anchored by the late great Brickskeller, establishments including Pizzeria Paradiso and Belga Cafe began serving them years ago. Since then, such concoctions have grown into darlings of the national mixology scene, served at places such as Chicago’s the Aviary and New York’s wd-50. Locally, they’ve experienced a similar ascent, appearing not only on more menus, but on swankier ones.
At Rogue 24, Bryan Tetorakis has been experimenting with beer cocktails since December. For his Cherry Coffee Stout, he mixes a cherry-and-coffee-flavored syrup with coffee-infused brandy and Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish sour ale that contributes tart cherry notes.
Another cocktail, the Trippel Dubbel, grew out of his desire to accent the citrus and coriander notes in Saxo, a blond ale from Belgium’s Brasserie Caracole. Tetorakis adds the beer to tangerine or orange-kumquat syrup, lemon juice, rye whiskey and Gran Classico Bitter, a liqueur made with bitter orange peel and rhubarb.
“It’s got the bitterness,” he says. “You can tell that there’s whiskey in there, and it’s also smooth and creamy. It’s approachable to a lot of people.”
Key word: “approachable.” Although some beer lovers recoil at the thought of other ingredients tainting their sacred substance, some take delight in the fact that the beer cocktail often functions as beerdom’s Trojan horse. It’s a means of slipping the goods into enemy territory.
Such is the case at the H Street pub the Queen Vic, which opened last spring with an array of unintimidating beer cocktails that mostly echo traditional two-ingredient British recipes like the Black and Tan. In the La Manche, a nod to the other side of the English Channel, aromatic St-Germain elderflower liqueur transforms a moderately bitter English India pale ale into a burst of honey and tropical fruit.
An even fruitier drink is available at Alexandria’s Virtue Feed & Grain: the Pomegranate Fizz, one of the six seasonal “hoptails” devised by Eat Good Food Group’s Todd Thrasher. Virtue’s bartenders shake pomegranate wheat beer with bourbon, vodka, pomegranate molasses and egg white, resulting in a drink with an inch of thick foam and a sweet-sour complexity.
In contrast, Thrasher’s Atypical Chocolate Martini is more of a battering ram: Intense yet surprisingly balanced, it is based on a reduction of Green Flash Double Stout. Dark rum, chocolate bitters and Spain’s orange-and-vanilla-scented Licor 43 add layers of flavor.
Elsewhere, bold beer cocktails are flavored with hops, the resinous flowers showcased in India pale ales. At the Mount Pleasant speak-easy Last Exit, Anthony Rivera infuses gin with Cascade hops, the kind popularized by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He serves it in a drink called the Nucky, with lemon, honey and soda water, plus a miniature pint glass of Hofbrau lager on the side.
Now that the local brewing and cocktail scenes are thriving, local beer cocktails could be a logical next step. Just don’t forget the local eggs.
Fromson, a freelance writer, lives in Washington. Follow him on Twitter: @dfroms.