By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Jacob Grier’s hobby is magic. He got hooked after watching a street performer at Disney World as a kid. With the aid of several magic kits, which he still has, Grier’s skills with cards and coins improved. He’s even mustered the courage to do tricks for the crowds during Portland’s Last Thursday celebrations with a friend who’s also a magician. And while he hasn’t had much time lately to entertain others with illusions, there’s some sleight of hand going on behind the bar anytime he’s slinging drinks.
Grier, who’s known for turning a bone into a drinking device while working at the now-shuttered Metrovino as well as founding Aquavit Week, now has a new project: bringing beer cocktails back to the masses. For those who’ve never tried or even heard of such a concoction, the holidays offer the perfect opportunity for an introduction to what is actually a type of mixed drink with a very long history. Grier’s first book, “Cocktails on Tap, The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer,” came out this year and offers up dozens of recipes and intriguing backstories. Anyone looking to elevate the typical beer they might serve at a party this season is sure to find inspiration among the pages featuring step-by-step directions and beautifully photographed finished products.
The idea for the book began, appropriately, in a city that’s swimming in interesting cocktails and home of the Sazerac — New Orleans. While attending a conference there in 2008, Grier heard co-author of “The World Atlas of Beer,” Stephen Beaumont, speak about beer cocktails. He also conjured up a little something called the Green Devil, which Grier said is the first beer cocktail he ever really liked. Made of absinthe, gin and Duvel, the recipe is the first listed in the section of Grier’s book highlighting contemporary cocktails. Grier also credits Oregon beer writer Ezra Johnson-Greenough as another key contributor to the effort. The two met when the Oregon Bartenders Guild hosted a session on beer cocktails. Together, with the assistance of Yetta Vorobik of The Hop & Vine, they launched Brewing up Cocktails — a series of events that focus on beer as an ingredient in mixed drinks.
From pitch to publishing, the text took about three years to complete. And in case you were wondering — yes, Grier has made all of the drinks that are included. “Every recipe’s been tested at multiple times. And there were many that didn’t make the cut, especially in the hot chapter,” Grier said. “There were some really weird drinks that I subjected my friends to.”
One that he never really got to work was the Aleberry, a very old drink made with oatmeal and beer. The resulting thick, malty substance was never up to Grier’s standards to include in the book. However, initial failures weren’t always scrapped. For example, the posset, as Grier warns in the text, is quite strange and initially might sound rather off-putting. A combination of cream, ale, eggs, rum, sugar and nutmeg is warmed to thicken the cream. The liquid is then separated from the curds that traditionally would’ve been consumed along with the drink. In the book, Grier says the beverage portion of it is actually quite delightful, “with a richness comparable to eggnog.” And, of course, nobody will tell on you if you don’t eat the curds.
Researching recipes for the vintage chapter meant tracking down old bar books or finding online resources for those that have long been out of print. Ideas for modern drinks came from the network of bartenders Grier knowns across the country. Count yourself lucky (most of the time) if you were a part of his tasting panel. The very formal-sounding collection of palates consisted of friends who would gather for a weekly game night and provide feedback. Many were hits, but there were some that ended up down the drain. Almost all of the older recipes were altered or updated in some manner. Grier explained that the upgrade brewing technology was one factor that led to drink changes.
“I mean, definitely one of the differences is that beers are more consistent now and usually fully fermented, so you probably don’t have as much residual sugar as perhaps you once did. And you probably don’t need to add as much sugar to a drink to cover up defects as you might’ve used to. So it’s — one general difference is probably drinks are less sweet than they would’ve been made originally.”
Holiday guests might not only be impressed if you present beer cocktails at your party; you can also share the history of the drinks as colorfully outlined in Grier’s book. The flip, for instance, has a meaning that’s changed throughout the centuries. “Today, we think of flips as any cocktail with a whole egg shaken into it, usually served cold,” he said. “The original flip would’ve maybe not have had an egg and it would’ve been served hot. It would’ve been made with beer. So obviously a huge, basically a 100 percent change in definition over time from a hot beer drink to a cold egg drink.”
To heat the flip during Colonial times in America, a red hot iron poker was employed out of necessity, but it also added some dramatic flair. When the tool was thrust into the drink, the sudden temperature change caramelized the sugars. In case you don’t have a poker and fire handy, Grier provided an alternative that’s similar to the process of making a Spanish coffee. A glass is lined with sugar before lighting high-proof rum on fire. Hot beer is then poured on top of the flames.
Another interesting account in the text involves the Blow My Skull, which is featured in this month’s Brew Bites column. The drink came from the first-ever Australian cookbook in 1864. Grier said it also contained “dishes like fried emu brains and roasted wombat and other things. But the drinks are really good.” Blow My Skull was apparently a favorite of a Tasmanian governor, who had a reputation for drinking people under the table and would always toast, “No heel taps!” With some digging, Grier discovered that was slang for the liquid left in a shot glass if you didn’t finish it in one gulp.
Even if you never end up making a beer cocktail yourself, the one thing Grier would like readers to take away from his book is the versatility of the drink. “’Cause everybody thinks of, you know, just adding a shot to a beer or making micheladas,” he said. “And I actually outline seven different types of beer cocktails.” For the motivated party host who’d like to try out a beer cocktail this month, Grier recommends wassail, “which is the old hot beer or cider drink. So nothing could be more appropriate for a holiday party than the wassail.” Another option for a big group is the Abbey Street Rum. “It requires a bit more shopping, but it’s Irish whiskey, Irish stout, club soda, lemon juice, simple syrup, Jamaican rum, an allspice liqueur, and then nutmeg and lime for garnish. It’s a little more ambitious, but it’s got some really incredible flavors—especially with the allspice. It’s great for winter.”
Customers who miss Grier’s magic with drinks at Metrovino can occasionally catch him working at Multnomah Whiskey Library. But he’s got something new in the works. Grier said he’s helping open a new place in Portland, probably early next year.
“It’ll be different. But we can’t talk about it yet,” he laughs. “I’ll say beer drinkers will be excited.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.