Beer Cocktails--Gimmick or Revelation?

I guess the idea of beer cocktails is not new; after all, boilermakers have been around since--well, probably since whiskey was invented. But the use of good beer and good liquor to create culinarily interesting cocktails, this seems to be a new thing. In Oregon, where micro-distilleries are only slightly outnumbered by craft breweries, it is almost an automatic union. And,this Saturday you will have a chance to try six beer cocktails at Brewing Up Cocktails (6pm, Hop and Vine). But still I wonder: is all this just a gimmick?

From the mixologist's side, maybe not. I am not remotely a cocktail guy, and sitting at a preview Friday with press who were, I recognized how they differ from beer geeks. Beer is, of course, a final product. The recipe is decided by the brewer--it arrives to you fully-formed and ready to drink. Beer criticism involves judging the craft. Cocktails are a lot more like cooking, though--you judge not the craft, but the recipe. Ingredients matter, but they're not definitive. After our first cocktail, I confessed: "I have no way of judging this." Said everyone else, almost in unison, "Well, did you like it?" So for the alchemist, beer is just another ingredient to throw into the cocktail.

From the beer geek's side, maybe so. One of the cocktails is this crazy blend of Oak-aged Yeti from Great Divide and bacon-infused bourbon. To add to the extreme-sports feel of this drink, the rim was coated in bacon crumbles and powdered sugar. Later, Jacob, Ezra, and Yetta, hosts of the event, brought out the remainder of the Yeti bottle, and we got to finish it off, straight. The difference was illustrative. In its native form, Yeti is half way between a liquid and a gel. It is so dense you can float a quarter on the surface. Add a bit of bourbon, though, and it becomes a light, dark substance of little distinction. The whole of that cocktail ("Son of Furburger") may be an unqualified success as a cocktail, but to this beer fan, it seemed like a minor blaspheme.

I think the jury's out, and I think the answer may never be more than relative. However, I'm willing to keep my mind crow-barred open long enough to be persuaded by argument and examples. For those interested in the event, here's a rundown of the offerings:
  • Tea party cocktail. An autumnal mixture of rum, chamomile liquor and cider. Thumbs up.
  • Wassail. The traditional rendering, made with Deschutes Jubelale, dry sherry, brandy, and spices. A huge fave of the crowd, but not one I loved.
  • Defusion. Like an Irish car bomb, but made with a whipped concoction of Ninkasi Oatis that tops the Jamison like a cappuccino. Tastes a lot like an Irish car bomb, which may or many not please you.
  • Son of Furburger. See above.
  • Lover's Quarrel. Saint Germain and a Jolly Pumpkin sour. The beer was in such short supply that we didn't get to try it.
  • Hot Scotchie. This beverage was so transcendent that it may have changed my life permanently. It gets its own post, probably tomorrow.

Updates. Christian DeBenedetti offers a treatment of the beer cocktail and is more impressed. Also, at the New School, Ezra will spend the week running through a description of each of the cocktails at this weekend's event.