Beertails. It’s a term that typically triggers a quizzical tilt of the head or a grimacing recoil. Most people haven’t heard of beer-infused cocktails, and many who have tried them have been subjected to subpar forms of this booze hybrid, which has struggled to gain traction in an adult beverage scene thirsty for both craft beer and cocktails. Given those bents, one would think beertails a slam dunk, but marrying beer and spirits is more complicated than it seems. Just ask Rob McShea, bar director at WhipHand American Brasserie and Beer Bank, a recently opened spot in downtown’s East Village where the beertails are a cut above and capable of converting suds-spirits skeptics.
“We wanted to create something unique for beer drinkers that wasn’t your garden variety beer cocktail. This is to say, not just shaking something up and pouring beer on top of it. Frankly, those cocktails are never very good,” says McShea, who says that errant technique leads to the beer quickly overdiluting the cocktail. “I wanted to take the natural flavors within the beers and layer them with profiles that created a cohesive cocktail.”
The pair of beertails on WhipHand’s current menu, the recipes for which McShea has included for our readers, use small amounts of boldly flavored ales to impart beery character, as well as spirits that have been aged in barrels used to age beer. The first, the Fightin’ Irish, marries Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch coffee-infused stout with the stout edition of Jameson’s Caskmates barrel-aged Irish whiskey. Coffee and chocolate-like roastiness provide a flavor nexus.
Cali Love employs an extra step to concentrate the flavor of North Park Beer Co.’s Hop Fu! IPA before introducing it to the drink. McShea whisks Demerara sugar (tan, large-grain raw sugar lightly coated in molasses) into the beer and boils it into a syrup. The evaporation process intensifies the beer’s hop-borne fruitiness and bitterness. Those characteristics help achieve something very important. “The most important thing is achieving balance,” says McShea. “No one who creates cocktails wants to fall victim to the ever-present danger of the ‘too sweet police.’”
In general, McShea says most ales lend themselves to cocktails, while lagers do not. For him, they are too simplistic to lend much to a mixed drink. When looking for beers to work with, he usually looks to his beer vendors and brewery pals to provide him with inspiration. That said, his palate has been known to create “light-bulb moments” when he tastes a beer, setting him down a creative road.
His taste buds have also led to his discovery of some nice beer and food pairings at his stomping grounds. McShea likes pairing the Fightin’ Irish with WhipHand’s dry-aged, smoked cheddar burger, and downing a Cali Love in tandem with a “high stacked” pastrami sandwich or vegan “dblcheeseburger” wrap. Try them out at the source or pour a tall ‘tail in the comfort of your home bar.