If you see beer used in a cocktail, it’s usually as a syrup, boiled down with sugar to serve as a sweetener and bring out the beer’s flavors—the tartness of a sour, or chocolate notes in a stout, for instance. But cocktails made with unadulterated beer are few and far between in San Diego, usually found at spots that don’t have a full liquor license and want to give patrons more options. (In this category, my favorite is Le Petite Levier at Nate’s Garden Grill, made with white ale, sparkling wine, and grapefruit juice.
Last week, as part of San Diego Beer Week, Amplified Ale Works’ East Village location invited seven women bartenders to come up with their best beer cocktails. In addition to a three-round competition, Amplified also served each bartender’s specialty cocktail, with proceeds going to Pink Boots Society, which supports women brewers, and Proper Groove’s Bartenders Against Sexual Assault program.
Aubree Corliss Miller, CEO of Assault Media Marketing, organized the event. She came up with the idea, she says, "because I really wanted to showcase things I felt should be more celebrated."
She adds that there’s a disconnect between San Diego’s beer and cocktail scenes. "Knowing both of these scenes, they have so much in common and I really wanted to bring them together."
The competition not only showcased how well beer can work in a cocktail, but also the depth of talent among San Diego’s women bartenders. So, cheers to that, ladies. (And a shout-out to Amplified brewer Demetra Hamill, whose creations were showcased in the competition.)
Some takeaways for home bartenders wanting to experiment with brews and booze:
Beer can mellow out a cocktail
For the first round, contestants were given a mystery ingredient (either a beer or a spirit) and had to come up with a beer cocktail on the fly. For Amplified bartender Jamie Brown, it was a bottle of Old Harbor Barrel Flag rum. She made up a classic mai tai and added some Desert Haze IPA to cut the sweetness and make the cocktail more refreshing. I’m not a huge mai tai fan or an IPA fan, but I really appreciated how the two balanced each other.
Beer and spirits complement each other
Lola 55’s Meghan Balser’s mystery ingredient was Amplified’s Dry School Hop Out Double IPA. Balser decided to play up the beer’s grapefruit notes by bringing in Nostrum’s grapefruit, piloncillo, and chipotle shrub, which has a really nice kick to it. She used Old Harbor Barrel Flag rum as the base and added lemon, smoked orange bitters, and crème de cacao to play off the chipotle. It was one of my favorites of the competition.
A good sour beer can transform a cocktail
Ren Perakis, bar manager at Malahat Spirits, made another one of my favorites. Called Marilyn’s Dream and inspired by a cosmopolitan, she used Aperol, Giffard’s Pêche de Vigne liqueur, and Amplified’s Cosimo-politan sour ale—brewed with fresh cranberries, makrut lime, and orange peel—to stand in for cranberry juice and triple sec. The combo elevated the classic to a whole new level.
And a quick shout-out to the two ladies who made it to the final round for the title: In a second secret-ingredient round, Ella Diaz from Ironside was stuck with a container of cucumber tzatziki. Inspired by memories of picking cucumbers and raspberries as a kid, she used Old Harbor’s San Miguel gin as a base and went in the direction of a gin sour, adding lemon, simple syrup, and egg white. To bring in raspberry flavors, she topped off the cocktail with Amplified’s Tart of Glass sour and a bit of black pepper for garnish. It was a savory, refreshing cocktail that I’d love to see on a menu.
April Kirby from You & Yours Distilling took home the grand prize (a gift certificate to Collins & Coupe) with a lovely dessert cocktail made with You & Yours Winter Sunday Gin, Aperol, lemon juice, and a grapefruit cordial. She topped it off with foam made from fresh raspberries and Amplified’s Tart of Glass sour. She garnished it with pink peppercorn and FireStix edible flowers—it was another menu-worthy cocktail and looked as good as it tasted.
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