The first copies of How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, appeared under the Dick & Fitzgerald imprint in 1862 for the price of $1.50. In it, Jerry P. Thomas, the former principal bartender at New York’s Metropolitan Hotel, describes a handful of beer cocktails including an “Ale Sangaree,” made with simple syrup and grated nutmeg, and the more complex “Porter Cup,” created by adding brandy, sugar, ginger syrup, grated nutmeg, cucumber rind, and “a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda” to equal portions of porter and table ale. Countless cocktail books and bartending guides have been published since Mr. Thomas’ “complete cyclopaedia of plain and fancy drinks” turned up in the nineteenth century, although most fail to venture beyond the simple Shandy or the tame Snakebite when it comes to using beer.
This is perhaps what makes Beer Cocktails such an appealing addition to the mixologist’s library: it’s the first of its kind. Organized into four sections—light lager, weissbier, and pale ale; Belgian beer; stouts and porters; and barleywine, brown ale, bock, and pumpkin beer—authors Howard and Ashley Stelzer lead readers from the basic Black and Tan to the nuanced One Sunset, a drink with seven different ingredients. Opening with a brief overview of brewing, beer styles, bar tools, and glassware, this slim yet handsome volume is cleanly designed and illustrated with more than 20 full-page color photographs. The novice bartender might have found pictures of the various types of glasses useful too, but this is a relatively minor quibble and one that’s partially remedied by the inclusion of a liquid conversion table in the backmatter.
While commonplace concoctions do make the occasional appearance in Beer Cocktails (do we really need the Boilermaker explained again?), the 50 recipes within are more often successful with inventive ingredients and playful names like the Empress’s New Clothes, a citrusy, spirited beverage that incorporates a dose of Russian imperial stout. In some cases, a bit of additional history on the recipes, their inspiration, or evolution would have been welcome, yet overall the writing is brisk and lighthearted beer quotes from M.F.K. Fisher, Dave Barry, Washington Irving, and Fritz Maytag add to the book’s lively character.
Altogether, roughly 30 beer styles are represented, and several recipes include variations for the budding mixologist with an urge to experiment. The Stelzers also account for seasonality, describing how to prepare warm Colonial Flips and Lager Grogs as well as the steps to follow for a De Pêche à la Mode, their take on the Bellini which features peach lambic, vanilla ice cream, peach preserves, and brandy. Granted, the Skippy, a frat party staple also known as the Pink Panty Dropper, could’ve been left out of this edition, but the Chic-Choc, with root beer schnapps, chocolate vodka, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, and a bacon garnish is an inspired potion for the barfly (or reviewer) with a sweet tooth. In fact, I think I’ll have another.