Article by guest contributor Drew Worden
Jacob Grier found himself between a bock and a hard place, so to speak. The Portland-based bartender, cocktail blogger, published author, and sometimes magician had recently unearthed the recipe for a beer cocktail penned by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens. The “Mulled Ale,” a drink consisting of cognac, spices, brown sugar, and English ale, sounded like a winner. Only problem was, a few centuries of innovation, palate shift, and increased brewing efficiency had all but sent the old ales of yore into permanent retirement. The beer Dickens called for no longer existed. This being Portland, a city with an absurd wealth of sudsy resources, the solution was only a phone call away. Longtime friend and brewer Ben Edmunds of Portland’s Breakside Brewery answered the call. The rest is history, literally, in liquid form.
Grier’s request did not faze the brewmaster, who has created nearly 100 unique beers in each of the last two years. Edmunds’ solution was to brew a special rye-wine, a deep mahogany behemoth with toasted molasses and brown bread characteristics, residual sugars abounding, next to no carbonation, and an uncharacteristic (for a modern beer) lack of bittering balance.
Grier chooses to execute Dickens’ cocktail in a surprisingly modern fashion: sous vide. The cocktail, batched in advance, is stored in swing-top 750ml glass bottles in a warm water bath, slowly reaching the desired temperature, then remaining there indefinitely. This gentle treatment has gentle results. Without scorching or additional caramelization of the existing sugars, the drink is left very round and smooth, with spiced orange peel aromas and a chewy, gingerbread-like bite.
Another preparation with the rye-wine is a vintage beer cocktail simply called a “flip” (and absent the egg that has now come to define the drink), which involves the superheating of a specially made, orb-ended iron rod “loggerhead” fashioned (again, this is Portland) by a blacksmithing friend of Grier’s. (A magician and a blacksmith walk into a bar . . .) The heated iron is inserted into a metal pitcher containing our cocktail, which produces a pleasant bubbling froth at the surface and the tiniest of whispers as it rapidly warms the liquid. This one is more aggressive than the Mulled Ale, with smoky undertones from either the fire-heated rod, the almost-peaty Smith & Cross rum, or both. Warm, estery alcohols meld with the malty, sweet body of the beer, resulting in another delicious and comforting beverage.
These fascinating cocktails represent but a tiny portion of Jacob Grier’s forthcoming book Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer, set for release March 17th via New York’s Abrams Publishing. Within its pages, you’ll find a plethora of beer cocktails, both vintage and modern in origin. You fancy a Mai Tai? Try the Mai Ta-IPA, a tropical concoction blending rum, orgeat, fresh lime juice, and orange curucao with a citrusy IPA. Looking for a Last Word? The Curse Word, a preparation subbing in a more bitter german liqueur for the typical Chartreuse and adding a Belgian pale ale for some vivacity, might be for you. You get the idea. Alongside stunning photography from David L. Reamer, captured in a bevy of Portland locales, these recipes stand as bastions of a long-forgotten history as well as pillars of innovation in the realms of both beer and cocktails.
Heating the Flip with a hot poker
You can try both the mulled ale and the flip, made with the special Breakside rye-wine, from 5-7pm on Monday, February 16th at the Hop & Vine in North Portland.
Jacob Grier’s newest book Cocktails on Tap is available for pre-order NOW:
Drew Worden is the beer and cocktail manager at The Hop & Vine, a craft bar in North Portland. He never met a pun he didn’t like, and obviously subscribes to dadjokes.com.