Contrary to popular representation, cocktails hardly need to be the elegant and pricey libations one glimpses in Hollywood films or luxury locations. Whether you’re making obscure herbal concoctions, vintage martinis or simple two- to three-ingredient mixes, there’s something to suit every party, palate and pocketbook.
My goal in writing this cocktail column will be to explore the flavours of seemingly innocuous ingredients, and to help turn the intimidating walls of bottles at the local liquor store into an exciting cornucopia of possibility. There is no right or wrong way to make or drink a cocktail, and recipes should generally be regarded as guidelines at best – including the ones listed here. The more you know your favourite ingredients, the more you can play with their flavours; even the cheapest and most basic liquors have something unique to offer.
This week, I’ll start with an easy and well-kept secret: beer cocktails. Though more popular in Europe and particularly the United Kingdom, shandies and radlers are increasingly available on the North American market, and are often a great way to turn a bland brew into a fruity masterpiece. To make your own, try adding a few tablespoons of freshly-squeezed citrus juice to your favourite pint. Typically, grapefruit pairs well with white beers like Hoegaarden, orange tastes great with virtually any crisp, German-style lager, and a dash of lemon goes great with wheat beers – except, for some reason, Picaroons’ Dooryard.
The only thing better than mixing beer and juice is mixing beer and cider. A snakebite, for example, involves equal parts hard cider and lager – perfect for infusing anything from Keith’s to Barking Squirrel with a bit of a fruity kick. A crown float, on the other hand, comprises a cider base with an equal measure of stout or porter – look for St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout or Picaroons Timberhog – floated carefully on top. (To achieve this effect, hover a spoon upside-down above the surface of the cider and pour the beer onto the spoon and into the drink.)
When choosing a beer and cider combination, try to aim for opposites. For example, a sweet cider like Magner’s or Foundry will balance out a bitter pale ale or an imperial pilsner, while a drier choice like Strongbow, Angry Orchard or Blackthorn will stand up to the soft creaminess and charcoal sweetness of a good stout.
Finally, if one wanted to mix beer with even more beer, they could opt for a half-and-half, a delicious blend of light lager and luscious porter. As with any beer cocktail, experimentation is key. Find the flavour combination that best suits your palate; my personal favourite in this category is a Bavarian-style lager like Okanagan Spring 1516 topped with a rich chocolate stout.

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