Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you’re reading this publication, there is a pretty good chance you wandered into your first party with booze wide eyed and a little nervous because you hadn’t yet reached the legal drinking age. Surveying the scene with a mix of excitement and anxiety, you may have spotted a trash can full of jungle juice in the kitchen. Cases of lite beer and bottles of Boone’s fought for shelf space in the fridge. And before you plunged into what essentially could be summed up as the equivalent of the leftover bathwater assortment of alcohol, an upperclassman well-versed in the art of the house party delivered this sage advice: Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear.
That rule has kept many a drinker from ending a night curled up on the bathroom floor. But it’s also misguided the overly cautious, who would not even dare to try both spirits and beer on the same night. A beer cocktail, then, might sound like an abomination — the combining of two categories that threaten to throw natural order out of whack. But crossing the streams in this instance won’t lead to molecular combustion. Beer can add unique flavors to a mixed drink, several of which were on display during a recent dinner held at The Heathman Restaurant & Bar to mark the release of Portlander Jacob Grier’s book “Cocktails on Tap, The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer.” The author and bartender, beloved for his concoctions at Multnomah Whiskey Library and Metrovino, created five different types of beer cocktails for the event. Tim Eckard, executive sous chef at The Heathman, developed a dish for each beverage based on descriptions of the drinks provided by Grier. The meal was an enlightening tutorial for anyone who’s new to beer cocktails.
Punch Drunk Love
Trends in mixology may seem to shift at a maddening rate. One day everyone who’s a “Carrie” is ordering Cosmopolitans and the next it’s all about bacon- and birthday cake-flavored vodka. But the addition of beer to cocktails is anything but new. Grier wrote that “in the 19th century — and for hundreds of years before — using beer in drinks was absolutely normal. Adding sugar, spice and spirits was common practice.” Appropriately, the dinner began with what’s probably the oldest version of a beer cocktail, which is a punch. “Anytime you make a punch, you usually want some kind of ingredient to stretch it out so it’s not too high in alcohol so it’s really smooth,” Grier explained.
Dark beer was commonly employed to accomplish that in old punch recipes. For the dinner, Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter added balance to the Jamaican pot still rum, brandy and lime in a drink called Blow My Skull. Hints of citrus were repeated in one of the hors d’oeuvres — ceviche with habanero chili and cilantro that was the perfect pre-meal tease, melting away in the mouth just as you started to appreciate the intensity of the flavors.
Fizzy Lifting Drink
The second beverage was a bit more modern. When composing his book, Grier put out a call to bartender friends across the country for recipe contributions. Beer and Loathing was submitted by Karen Grill of Los Angeles and it illustrates another drink category, the beer-topped cocktail.
“This is where you kind of start with a base that could be a cocktail all by itself, but then you top it off with a beer to make it kind of long and fizzy,” said Grier, “just like you would with say a soda or Champagne in a more traditional drink.”
Beer and Loathing’s foundation is Aperol, which Grier described as a more approachable version of Campari. The orange liqueur, punctuated with bitterness, was mixed with honey syrup, fresh marjoram for piney and citrusy notes, grapefruit and lemon. The Commons Brewery Urban Farmhouse Ale capped the drink along with a marjoram garnish. Chef Eckard matched many of those characteristics by serving a plump diver scallop drizzled in blood orange gastrique and a dollop of caviar. He said he chose citrus flavors for the dish because they paired well with the lemon and honey in the cocktail. A briny, yet sweet, scallop enhanced what almost tasted like pomegranate in the Beer and Loathing. Visually, the blush color of the drink echoed the burnt orange syrup on the plate, tying the two together.
There’s a surprise ingredient in Grier’s Mai Tai, and that’s an IPA — Ex Novo’s Dynamic Duo for this specific dinner. The Mai Ta-IPA represents a beer-incorporated cocktail. “This style, it’s more about treating beer just like anything else — using maybe an ounce, ounce-and-a-half — stirring it in, shaking it in with everything else,” said Grier. “So beer is more just like a little accent.”
Grier particularly enjoys working with tiki or tropical drinks in this category. As with the Mai Ta-IPA, you’ll typically see them made with rum, some spice, sweet syrups and citrus. But bitter is not a common element. A touch of hoppy IPA adds some unexpected zest. “Then you end up with a kind of floral bitterness and a frothy head on the drink,” Grier described.
Polynesian themes continued with a braised pork belly, chicarone and creamy polenta. Chef Eckard said pig is his favorite animal to cook with and his preferred cut is pork belly, as it provides a “nice ratio of fat to meat.” The sweet pork was braised with dried cherry and cumin, which brought some spice and bitterness similar to that in the IPA. Perched atop the porcine sculpture was a chicarone or house-made pork rind. Chef Eckard gets the belly, skin-on and goes through a days-long process to make the crispy treat. After the skin is removed, it’s dried for about 24 hours in an oven at 200 degrees. The final touch is a dip in the fryer.
Hot, Sticky Sweet
The Old Fashioned is one of those classic cocktails your dad might’ve bought you on your 21st birthday at a refined, leather-booth restaurant. Grier adhered to the vintage recipe with one exception — beer was a component, but one that needed to be transformed long before the drink was mixed.
“So in this case, we use a stout — a really rich stout (Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout) — to make a syrup that we then do an Old Fashioned with,” he said. “So normally you’d just use some sugar syrup, but if you wanted to add a little extra flavor, you could use syrup made from beer.”
The reduction can be cooked on stove top, as long as you take care and not let the brew boil over while combining it with turbinado sugar. With flavors of smoke and maple syrup, the drink is perfect for fall fare. If you could taste the rich, comforting scent of a leaf burn pile on a crisp evening, this cocktail would be it.
A hearty dish needed to match the boldness of the Old Fashioned, and a grilled duck breast was up for the challenge. It was as thick and juicy as a steak with espresso rub on the flesh side. Black Butte Porter was used again in the meal for a rich and sweet sauce that also came together with the help of breast trimmings, garlic, shallots and veal stock. Gliding on top of the cut of duck was an oversized dab of cured foie butter.
Thanksgiving Dessert in a Glass
The Averna Stout Flip is one of Grier’s personal favorites. The drink’s vacillating history is one unique element. But this cocktail is so decadent and satisfying, it could also be its own dessert course. A rich Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout has some of the same bittersweet properties as the Averna. Shaken with a whole egg, Angostura bitters and topped with fresh nutmeg, Grier likens the mix to an adult milkshake. A spicy-sweet pumpkin pie that’s gone through the blender and served chilled could be another way to describe it.
Not to be outdone by the bartender, Chef Eckard whipped up what looked like edible clouds on a plate. Hazelnut ice cream cozied up to a house-made marshmallow with a top of caramelized sugar. Brown butter crumble provided a graham cracker texture and taste, which meant at that point you had two-thirds of a s’more fancier than anything you’ve ever smooshed together at a campfire. Fermented black bean caramel brought hints of saltiness for contrast. Together, the dessert enhanced the coffee notes of the flip.
Beer cocktails might just be making a comeback, as old recipes get dusted off and modernized and new concoctions are invented by creative bartenders. While not readily available everywhere, the drinks are worth seeking out. Additional beer cocktail and food pairings are likely on the horizon, which can introduce newcomers to the concoctions. Ultimately, though, you don’t have to be hesitant about combining liquor and a brew. In fact, it may be time for a new saying: Beer in a cocktail, no need to bail.
Paired with a Beer and Loathing cocktail featuring The Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale
Recipe by Chef Tim Eckard
4 jumbo diver scallops
1 cup celeriac puree (see recipe below)
1/4 cup sliced sweet yellow onion
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/4 cup white wine
1 medium celeriac bulb (or celery root) about 3/4 pound, peeled and sliced thin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
3 blood oranges, juiced
2 tablespoons white cane sugar
2 teaspoons domestic caviar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
For celeriac puree
— Place one medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and melt butter.
— Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Sweat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
— Add celery root and sweat 2-3 minutes.
— Add white wine and reduce by half.
— Add heavy cream and drop heat to low. Simmer 10-15 minutes until celery root is tender.
— Season to taste with salt.
— Puree with Vitamix or blender on high until smooth (pass through a fine sieve if you have one).
— Set aside and keep warm.
For blood orange gastrique
— Add blood orange juice and sugar to small saucepan and cook on medium-high heat.
— Simmer mixture until liquid is a sauce-like consistency and reduced by 2/3. Set aside and keep at room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
— Pat scallops dry with towel.
— Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper.
— Add canola oil to large saute pan and heat over high heat.
— Wait until oil smokes and then add scallops to pan. Reduce heat to medium and sear 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown and scallop is cooked to your liking. Remove from pan.
— Add one large tablespoon of puree to a plate.
— Swirl blood orange gastrique around plate.
— Place one scallop on top of puree.
— Place 1/2 teaspoon caviar on top of scallop.
— Optional: garnish plate with micro basil and blood orange segments.
Serving Size: 4
Paired with a Mai Ta-IPA featuring Ex Novo Dynamic Duo IIPA
Recipe by Chef Tim Eckard
4 pieces pork belly (6 ounces each)
1/4 cup dried Bing cherries
1 tablespoon cumin
6 garlic cloves
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 quarts chicken broth
1 cup dried polenta
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is my favorite)
2 tablespoons goat cheese (Briar Rose Creamery is my favorite)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon canola oil or vegetable oil
For Pork Belly
— Rub pork belly with salt, pepper and cumin.
— Add canola oil to a medium saucepan over high heat.
— When the pan smokes, add pork belly with the fat side down.
— Lower heat to medium and cook 2-3 minutes on first side, then flip. Cook 2-3 minutes more until golden brown. Remove from pan.
— Add onion, garlic and dried cherries to same pan. Cook in juices for 3-4 minutes until brown.
— Add chicken broth and deglaze pan. Scrape bottom of pan for brown bits, which adds flavor.
— Bring broth to boil and then return to a simmer on medium low heat.
— Add pork belly to broth and simmer on low for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until tender.
— Spoon out pork belly, strain sauce and reduce sauce in pan by half.
— Add pork belly back to sauce and keep warm.
— In a medium-sized saucepan, add water and cream, season with salt and pepper.
— Bring to simmer over medium heat and slowly stir in polenta.
— Reduce heat to low and slowly cook, stirring often for 20-30 minutes.
— When polenta is soft, add parmesan, goat cheese and butter.
— Add a dollop of polenta to plate and place one piece of pork belly on top.
— Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of sauce over pork belly.
— Serve with a side of greens, dressed with vinegar and olive oil.
— Optional: add store-bought chicarone to finished dish. At the restaurant, we make our own.
Serving Size: 4