Prior to the relatively recent cocktail renaissance, the closest beer and booze came to one another was in the classic working-stiff's combination of a beer and a shot. Now, however, the pressure to innovate has become so intense that what were once considered exotic additions to cocktails are barely worth a shrug. We are no longer moved by rare amari, syrah syrups, and sipping vinegars. So it's no surprise that beer has been elevated from a mere sidekick to a novel cocktail ingredient, giving us the beertail. (There's even an entire book dedicated to them—Cocktails on Tap by Portland cocktail dude Jacob Grier.)
Beer cocktails may seem frivolous, but also they're delicious. As Kendall Jones of Washington Beer Blog put it, "Any time you can add beer, it's a good thing." Amen, Kendall. Here's a list of some of our favorite Seattle beertail offerings.
St. Georgetown at Smith
The St. Georgetown ($9) at Smith (332 15th Ave E, 709-1900) bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain party punch that I'd really rather forget. My encounter with this life-destroying-yet-irresistible mixture occurred at a coworker's Halloween party in an apartment above what was then Twice Sold Tales' original location, which gives you an idea of how long I've been trying to forget it.
I realize this does not sound like a glowing endorsement, but even though it reminds me what it's like to be the drunkest person on Capitol Hill on Halloween, the St. Georgetown is a great drink. Like the life-destroying-yet-irresistible punch, it has gin, citrus, and beer, but the similarities end there. While the punch featured cheap gin, powdered limeade mix, and a 30-rack of Natty Light, Smith's version is made with high-quality gin (St. George's Terroir), actual lime juice, Georgetown's well-balanced Lucille IPA, fresh thyme and saffron, pineapple juice, and a modicum of concern for your well-being.
As IPAs go, Lucille is hop-forward, tangy, bitter on the back end, and lacking in the syrupy finish that's present in some of its more malty cousins. This makes it an excellent choice, because residual sweetness would be very unwelcome in the company of the pineapple juice. The beer's hearty bitterness also provides a necessary counterbalance to the cocktail's higher-pitched flavors. The result is a bright, tart, and vaguely floral mixture, with a hint of hops and a few bubbles.
Seattle Sour at Liberty
Although it's just down the street from Smith and contains beer from the same brewery as the beer in the St. Georgetown, the Seattle Sour ($10) at Liberty (517 15th Ave E, 323-9898) deserves its own entry because it's a perfect example of a playful, enlightened take on a classic.
It starts with a great whiskey sour made with rye and coffee liqueur, and it's topped off with foam from a Manny's Pale Ale. The foam is not, as I initially thought, made by some esoteric process of pressurized infusion; rather, it's gleaned from a simple mispouring of beer. They drop a good splash of Manny's into a rocks glass without tilting, to ensure that the head is at its zenith of frothiness, and then they scrape off the resulting foam, put it on top of the whiskey sour, and present it with the leftover beer as a bonus.
Manny's was the first craft beer I ever tasted, and after guzzling years' worth of the stuff, I've become regrettably jaded by it. But in the context of this clever beertail, it takes on a new life: each sip of the leftover beer plays in perfect harmony with the sour, reminding me of all the things I liked about Manny's way back when I first discovered that there was a whole world of hoppy delights beyond the cheap comfort of Rainier.
Cerveza-rita at Fonda la Catrina
What's better than a shot and a beer? A shot and a beer in the same glass with some of Fonda la Catrina's (5905 Airport Way S, 767-2787) excellent margarita mix. The Cerveza-rita ($8) accomplishes the rare feat of hitting all the same satisfaction buttons as sipping a Dos Equis and a shot of well tequila side by side, and it is balanced out wonderfully by the eye-opening tang of the sour mix.
This drink is a great example of the "beer makes it better" theory. Yes, Fonda's margarita is already a thing of beauty. But when you can replace a couple ounces of the mix with beer and sacrifice not an ounce of taste, that's making a good thing better. Viva la Cerveza-rita!
French Prince of Bel Air at Rob Roy
This is the only one of Seattle's current offerings to be featured in Grier's book, and rightfully so. It's the best one. Rarely do I take a sip of a $12 cocktail, sit back in stunned bliss, and think to myself, "I would happily pay $15 for this." It's that good.
I ventured into Rob Roy (2332 Second Ave, 956-8423)—that leather-lined shrine to the craft cocktail—solely for the French Prince. I partook of no bar snacks or other libations. The drink is a solitary experience, best enjoyed on its own and reflected upon after each wonderful sip.
Its principal booze is rhum agricole, the true rum drinker's delight: complex, earthy, and herbaceous, as opposed to syrupy and one-note like many mass-market rums. The agricole is then combined with herby, rich Amaro Montenegro, mint, lime juice, and Angostura. Le Merle Saison from California's North Coast Brewing completes it. Despite being a six-ingredient drink, the floral, sweet-yeasty flavor of the traditional Flanders-style brew is unmistakable.
There are drinks that I imagine were born out of a really bored bartender on a really slow night pouring shit into a mixing glass as if he were playing King's Cup, resulting in a horrible cacophony of flavors. This is not one of them. Every ingredient has its place and occupies it perfectly. It is a beautiful, alcoholic symphony in a glass.
Michelada at Nacho Borracho
If you're severely hungover from, say, drinking too many beertails, and you're looking for some hair of the dog, there is actually a breed specific to the beertail. The Michelada is both a perfect hangover cure and a beertail itself, being composed of beer (usually of the cheap Mexican lager variety), tomato juice, lime, a salt rim, and spices or sauces of the creator's preference. It is the beertail equivalent of a Bloody Mary, the ultimate iteration of the humble red beer.
Though Barrio's Michelada is the recipient of much well-deserved praise, I have to give the hangover-cure crown to the Michelada ($6) at Nacho Borracho (209 Broadway E, 466-2434). It is not nearly as "craft" as Barrio's, but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in colocation with Neon Taco, that high temple of restorative Mexican food. Pairing a Michelada with some of Monica Dimas's spicy pozole or menudo is one of the most instantly revivifying tonics available to the overindulgent Seattleite.
I'm also partial to Poquitos' straightforward version of the drink, especially when their habanero hot sauce is within reach, as a half-ounce squeeze of it adds a gripping burst of bright, fruity heat to an already-above-average Michelada.
Rachel's Ginger Beer Shandy
Normally, I wouldn't include a shandy on a list of beertails, because it isn't technically a beertail. Also, because they seem like less of a way to enhance the flavor of good beer and more of a trick to obscure its flavor. But everyone I talked to about beertails said the same thing: "Rachel's has a great shandy!"
I'm glad I listened. The shandy ($5, available at Rachel's Ginger Beer's Capitol Hill location, 1610 12th Ave), made with RGB's original ginger beer, mostly tastes like their excellent ginger beer but with a little more fizz and a vague suggestion of booze. (Given that they use Bitburger, this is not surprising; it tends to be pretty anemic compared to the muscly lagers and pilsners we're used to round these parts.)
Made with RGB's cucumber-tarragon brew, however, the shandy is white-hot fire. Cucumber is a definite force multiplier for pilsner, playing into its natural crispness perfectly. The tarragon also delivers a major flavor upgrade, adding aggressive herbal strokes to the relatively blank canvas that is Bitburger. I am surprised and delighted to report that RGB's cucumber-tarragon brew succeeds where lemonade has previously failed.
This article appeared in the fall 2015 issue of The Sauce.