We live in the era of “craft:” craft cider, soda and barbecue, craft vinegar, doughnuts, marshmallows and burgers, among the many.

In cheese, they call it “artisanal.” I suspect that “craft” might be too close to “Kraft.”

Without doubt, the leaders of this trend are craft beer, spirits and cocktails. Craft brewing, arguably, started it all, with distilling following close behind. Now some in the cocktail realm are getting extra crafty, creating mixed drinks that bring the two together. Craft beer cocktails are now a thing, and many of them are quite good.

For dessert, try the Chocolate Cordial created at the Public House by Evans Brewing Co. in Fullerton, Calif. Cherry Heering liqueur and rich chocolate porter do give the impression of a chocolate cordial. But bourbon and the prominent, almond-like notes of amaretto make this about much more than simple chocolate-covered cherries. The recipe says to serve this over ice. In my experience, though, ice kills the drink. Straight up, it’s a luxurious chocolate-cherry bonbon. With ice, it becomes thin and one note. Shake it with ice and strain it into a cocktail glass. You’ll be glad you did. It also makes a fine Valentine’s Day cocktail.

When I visit fancy bars — the ones where barkeeps are called mixologists — I like to challenge them to mix me a drink incorporating India pale ale (IPA). I’ve had some good ones and some that were not so good. I posed this challenge to a friend, Sarah Diebel, a serious aficionado of spirits and cocktails. Together with colleague Masako Onodera they created the American Gentleman — a cocktail built on rye whiskey, ginger syrup and citrusy American IPA. It’s become a go-to before-dinner drink in my home.

The core ingredients of this refreshingly spritzy drink — rye, ginger, lemon and orange bitters — hit on nearly all the facets of hop character. Bitterness is there. Spicy, floral and fruity notes are in abundance. A garnish of fresh rosemary ties in to the more piney/resinous hop aromas. The recipe calls for three ounces of IPA. But I think you can top it off to taste. I prefer to have a little more beer in the mix.

The Albatross Bar & Restaurant in Astoria, Ore., incorporates pilsner into its aptly named Whilst Winter Fades. This cocktail perfectly straddles the bitter cold of winter and the welcome thaw of early spring. Lemon and rye whiskey are the main players. There is no pilsner flavor per se, but the earthy/spicy hops and sharp bitterness provide an excellent complement to the rye. Birch or maple syrup — we used maple in our sampling — give an underlying, warm sweetness. The dash of walnut bitters remains atop the foam instead of incorporating into the drink, offering a nutty aromatic with every sip. Be sure to drink the foam that remains in the glass. The walnut kick is the perfect send-off to this delicious drink.

The Gilded Trophy, crafted by cocktail consultants Jon and Lindsay Yeager, would be equally at home beside a blazing fire pit or a smoking barbecue pit. The sweet and spicy blend of rye and pineapple melds beautifully with the sweet and meaty smoke of a traditional, German-style, rauchbier urbock. I couldn’t help imagining barbecue sauce recipes incorporating the drink. The smoke is strong aromatically, but initially subtle in flavor. It becomes pleasantly more intense as you work your way through the glass.

In the Steamroller, San Francisco bartender Joel Teitelbaum pays homage to the caramel, toasty malt and rustic woody hops of California common or “steam beer,” a style developed in the Bay Area in the late 1800s. The straightforward appearance of this drink — it looks just like a pint of beer — hides a subtle, sneaky depth. This truly is a beer cocktail.

The beer is the flavor driver from start to finish with the Steamroller. The bourbon doesn’t stand out on its own, but rather complements the beer. Elderflower aromas waft subtly from the glass. The Cherry Heering sneaks up in the finish; just when you think it’s been completely overwhelmed, suddenly there it is.

The Harvey Weissbanger is a light and delicious summer slammer created by spirits blogger Jacob Grier. This take on the 1970s classic Harvey Wallbanger uses wheat beer as a substitute for vodka. Orange juice dominates. Galliano’s anise and vanilla are subtle, creating a background that adds some depth to an otherwise simple drink.

A German-style hefeweizen brings more flavor to the mix than vodka. The characteristic banana and clove are a perfect complement to the orange and anise. The combination is a fruit bowl in a glass. It’s better than the original and perfect for patio sipping — when that finally arrives.


Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at michael@aperfectpint.net.