As restaurants attempt to innovate through dishing out new bold flavors and creating categories like upscale comfort food, so too turn the wheels behind the bar with moves that take popular liquors to make interesting new cocktails and, a little more outside the box, create the beginnings of a beer cocktail trend.
“Chelada, the Mexican thirst-quenching combo of lime juice and a light lager, the Black and Tan — Guinness and Harp — have been around for quite some time,” says Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group. “Consumers are just coming around to the idea of mixing some of the sour Belgian-style beers as a cocktail ingredient. But it has to make some sort of culinary sense, not just a mash-up of ingredients.”
At Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, D.C., and on the other side of the country, at Urbane Restaurant in Seattle, Wash., beer cocktails have graced beverage menus with measured success.
“There is a certain consumer who will seek out beer cocktails,” says James Nelson, head bartender for Post Moderne Brasserie.
Abbott suggests that females, particularly millennials, are poised to be more experimental when it comes to beer cocktails.
“Females like the flavor of craft beer, but often find they can be very filling,” she says. “In cocktail format, there is more opportunity to engage the female consumer in the beer category.”
For Poste Moderene’s Lucky No. 3 shandy, Nelson said he specifically looked at the similar flavor profiles in the No. 3 Gin and Port City’s Optimal Wit beer used in the cocktail. Using a D.C. liquor and beer are likely a factor in the success of Nelson’s beer cocktail program.
“The craft beer industry is booming right now! I also think that if the flavors work and you have an educated staff who stand behind the drink, they can sell it,” Nelson says. “To make a beer cocktail successful, it’s very important to educate and energize your staff about the drink. In our case, using a locally brewed beer helps to drive popularity.”
“Get waitstaff and bartenders savvy on the ingredients to talk them up and encourage trial,” she suggests. “Mix a batch and offer gratis tastings to curious customers. Offering a rotating beer cocktail along with other house cocktails will encourage experimentation.”
While Urbane Restaurant doesn’t currently serve a beer cocktail, it has in the past and plans to again in the future, Ran Berger, assistant restaurant manager, tells SmartBrief.
“In general a lot of our diners are not specifically seeking out beer cocktails, however once they learn more about them and given them a try, they are pleasantly surprised,” Berger says, adding that Urbane’s first beer cocktail was created as a pairing to its smoked oyster on the menu. “Given our strong beer culture here in the Northwest, I do feel that beer cocktails are more popular with Northwest-specific consumers.”
Creating beer cocktails rooted in “some aspect of food and beverage culture” is key, according to Abbott.
“Successful food service operators are well aware that American consumers crave novelty and staying on top of meaningful trends is a key to differentiation,” she elaborates. “We are in the midst of a beer revolution here in the U.S. with the craft movement playing in many of the casual but high quality eateries. Consumers go to these places with the expectation that they may experiment with a beverage a little outside of their typical repertoire, and beer cocktails represent a fun way to dip into new flavors.”
Urbane promotes its beer cocktails when they are on offer through social media as well as by having mixologists and bartenders on hand “to educate [its] fans and guests on what a beer cocktail is and why they might like it. Happy hour pricing doesn’t hurt either!” Berger shares. “Given that there are so many local breweries doing fantastic things right in our backyard, we will offer more beer cocktails in the future. With more exposure/education about beer cocktails and unique offerings, I think more and more diners will be seeking them out.”
Looking to the future, the beer cocktail trend is just beginning, Abbot says.
“The Shandy, Snakebite and Michelada are being reimagined and our love of hoppy bitter IPAs and sour beers will only invite more experimentation,” she says. “It’s another aspect of our modern food culture, where it’s less about the next big thing and more about differentiation of quality flavors and highlighting well made products and ingredients in creative ways.”
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