01 May 2009

Mixed feelings

Session logoA chat with Séan and Laura at the bar of the Porterhouse made me realise how odd the whole thing is: we have no problem accepting that everyday drinks like tea and coffee can be mixed with other things to make them more palateable. Cocktails and kirs are classy. But somewhere along the path to industrial homogenisation we decided that beer had to be just beer: consumed as it is poured. The very notion of putting something else in there tends to garner weird looks. And yet, our draught stout was once a blend of stale and fresh beer, the abolition of which led Guinness to invent their pointless two-part pour in the 1950s. Is there anything to be gained from thinking of beer as something other than ready-to-drink?

This month's Session is hosted by Beer At Joe's, and is on the subject of Beer Cocktails.

I chanced upon my subject by accident. It was at the Easter Festival in Cork a couple of weeks ago, to which the TheBeerGeek brought along a bottle of Firestone Walker XII for disposal. It's a wood-bomb; a powerful brown ale which simulates the sensation of licking the inside of a bourbon barrel. There was more than a hint of cough syrup about it and I found the whole thing a bit sickly and hard to drink. As it happened, I was holding a half of Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout when Chris poured me the Firestone Walker. It made perfect sense to dump the woody dregs in with the smooth bittersweet Irish stout. And it worked quite beautifully, I think: the overpowering bourbon barrel character was smoothed by the mellow chocolate notes, while any nitrostout blandness got a firm kick from the rich boozy vanilla flavours. Result: a harmonious mingling of two very different beers into a deliciously balanced cocktail.

And I was going to leave it there, until a week later when I returned to Cork for the ICB Brew It Yourself gig. The aftershow pub crawl took us to the dinky bar above the Abbot's Ale House where I spotted an oddity on the blackboards: Picon Beer €5. Whatever could that be? When it was explained that it was a cocktail of Bavaria lager and a French orange liqueur, I can't remember if it was Dave dared me to order it, or the other way around, but I didn't need much encouragement.

It works really well: you get the clean refreshing fizz of a pint of lager, but there's also a sweet rich orangey flavour too. The liqueur is only 18% ABV so a dash isn't going to make your pint dangerously alcoholic -- just more interesting. When I got home I went in search of more information on the stuff and was rather surprised to find it is actually intended as a beer additive.

So, positive experiences all round on the beer mixing front. It's not something I plan on making a habit of, but there are times when it just seems like the right thing to do.


  1. Picon beer is supposed to taste like that? Its not bad or anything just a bit medicinal. Mind you I had two so I cannot slag.


  2. You should donate that picture to the Abbot's, to compete with The Bierhaus's Statler and Waldorf poster.

  3. The Firestone Walker and Chocolate Truffle stout sounds like a wicked mix and seems like actually putting them together gave you a beer that was better than the sum of its parts - this is when mixing beer is a good thing.

    Did the Picon Beer come with a cocktail umbrella and straw?! :)

  4. No it didn't. I feel cheated!

  5. I'm really intrigued by this Pion stuff. Reckon it'd brighten up a bottle of Becks? I might have to stop sniggering at the Germans who drink altbier with fanta or cola though.

  6. If by "brighten" you mean "make taste of oranges" then yes, yes it would.

  7. Maybe your drinking technique was the problem with the 12...

  8. You're right! I should have used a straw...