August 1, 2014 2:57 pm

Summer drinks: beer cocktails

Shandy sheds its shame as bar owners add some intriguing ingredients to their ale

Oskar’s Bar’s Beer Grylls

The shandy drinker, so often derided for diluting or polluting the taste of beer, may this summer enjoy a rare moment of fashion.

Mixologist Oskar Kinberg, of Oskar’s Bar at Dabbous in London’s Fitzrovia and nearby sister restaurant Barnyard, has introduced a dedicated shandy menu at Barnyard served in dimpled half-pint glasses. But it is not an ironic gesture. “I think people have always secretly liked beer cocktails,” Kinberg says. “It’s just that it became shameful to drink them.”

At Barnyard, his shandies include a Bourbon-tinged India pale ale and a mix of cider, pink grapefruit, tonic and sloe gin called Hedgerow. At Oskar’s Bar he mixes Bourbon with greengage liqueur, lemon juice and agave, lengthened with ginger ale and lager.

A decade ago the beer cocktail had all but vanished. Dog’s Nose, a gin with bitter, was a popular drink in Victorian times (mentioned by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers) but by the 1970s it was waning. In his 1976 book, Beer and Skittles, the late journalist and real ale supporter Richard Boston noted that Mother-in-Law – bitter mixed with old (dark malt beer) – and Dog’s Nose were “in varying degrees pleasant”, but he also cautioned against “some revolting concoctions”, citing blackcurrant as “the most widespread pollutant” of beer. The difference between then and now, explains Kinberg, is that “we are making them with fresh ingredients, elevating them from what they used to be”.

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James Fowler, who recently won the UK final of Diageo’s World Class bartending competition, uses blackcurrant in his Posh Cider & Black at The Larder House in Dorset. He also proffers a shandy called Panache – Cocchi Americano (aromatised wine), pink grapefruit juice and lemon juice, topped up with Moritz beer. Fowler says: “It’s a lovely fresh and fruity-style shandy using a fortified wine to maintain a lower alcohol content.”

Over in Bristol, there is further evidence of the genre’s appeal. In the picturesque walled garden of The Ethicurean restaurant, Jack Bevan has been tinkering with hops mixes. “We have made a hops cordial. We are the only people doing it and it’s a very beautiful drink.

“We have a beer cocktail on the menu now. We are topping a black IPA from Wiper & True with ginger beer and serve it with a spiced tomato and truffle soup. The floral spices of the IPA suit the ginger and pair well with the soup’s curry spices.”

Bevan believes the new allegiance to these drinks is in part thanks to the rise in small-scale brewing. “A lot of people are crafting drinks themselves,” he says. “We are no longer depending solely on large brands for our flavours.”

Chloe Scott-Moncrieff is co-founder of The Young British Foodies; the-ybfs.com

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