When customers see a "beer cocktail" on the Park Brugges drink menu, acknowledges bartender Shaelinn Mace, "We get a lot of questions, of course, because it's not that normal."
"Beer" and "cocktail" are, after all, generally thought to be separate drinks. But mixing beer into a cocktail is beginning to catch on in Pittsburgh -- just as it has in other cities with passionate beer-drinking cultures.
Beer cocktails can be prepared with non-alcoholic beverages, distilled spirits or even as a mixture of several beers. The classic beer cocktail is The Shandy, a British drink that mixes a light-bodied beer with either ginger ale or lemonade. The U.K. is also home to the Black & Tan (stout plus lager) and the Snakebite (beer and hard cider). The Michelada (beer, lime juice, tomato juice or Clamato, hot pepper), a Latin American concoction designed to help with the summer heat, is rumored to cure your hangover.
Closer to home, Highland Park's Park Brugges is experimenting with a craft-cocktail approach. "The whole idea started when the owners, the chef and his wife took a trip to Montreal," says manager Beth Rellis. Once they returned with word of the beer cocktails being served in the north, the Pittsburgh staff tried to reconstruct the beer sangria from that trip. It was well received, and Park Brugges now changes their beer cocktail seasonally.
Currently, the bar is featuring "The Cheery Monk": The cocktail ($8) is made with a combination of dark Belgian beers, cherry brandy and spices. It's finished with a splash of Stella Artois, which, according to Mace, refreshes the beer characteristics of the drink. (Customers will often choose Belgian beers for their cocktails, she notes, and compare flavors later.)
Home-brewing expert and beer-cocktail enthusiast Billy Broas offers sensible advice for drinkers who are just beginning to explore the hybrid concoctions. "Start with a beer you like," he says, "because if you don't like the beer, you won't like it in a cocktail."