In the Spirit

Beer on Whiskey

Not so risky. And sometimes surprisingly delicious

By Tony Cross

In holidays past, I would have a moment of clarity when visiting my loved ones. It would come on suddenly, and always within 12 hours of arriving. Like clockwork. “I’ve got to get out of here and get a drink.” The members of my family are not big drinkers. I would have a beverage or two around them, but I always craved my escape drink. It’s not because my folks are hard to be around — they’re amazing. It’s because this time of year stresses me out and I turn into Mr. McJerkface after a few hours of sitting around.

Mom and Pops live near me now, but for almost a decade they didn’t. There were no close bars that could whip up a decent drink, so off to the dive bars I went. One of my favorite things to order was a beer with a whiskey back. It did the trick every time. So, for this month’s column, I teamed up with Jason Dickinson, a certified Cicerone — think sommelier for beer or, as I like to call him, “beer nerd.” We had fun pairing up a few different styles of beer with spirits. And by we I mean that I texted him the three spirits I was bringing, and he used his expertise to bring a few pairing suggestions for each. Use these pairings anytime of the year, of course, but give these a shot when you’re out of town and are drawing a blank when you run away from your family.

Sour/Blanco Tequila

For our pairing, Jason brought Dogfish Head’s Sea Quench Ale Session Sour, and I provided El Jimador. Right off the bat, I sensed this would work. I spied a picture of a lime wheel on the can, and immediately saw the word “salt” in the description. That’s a margarita all day. “I chose this because of its year-round production,” Jason said. “It’s one of the few sours that we’re going to see on draft in more places pretty soon.” The first sip was all we needed. Tart and salty. Perfect with a blanco tequila — just make sure the label has “100 percent Agave” on it. If it doesn’t, I don’t think any beer will save you. If the spot you’re frequenting doesn’t have any sour-style beers, grab a Mexican lager. As I’ve mentioned before, a can of Modelo and tequila have been good pals of mine during the summer. However, I wouldn’t discriminate against them in winter.

Milk Stout/Spiced Rum

We combined a Nitro Merlin Milk Stout with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, and it went together quite nicely. The Merlin is light, creamy and smooth. The Nitro comes from the beer having more nitrogen gas than carbon dioxide (like most traditional beer). This also gives the beer a touch of sweetness. I picked Gosling’s because there’s more likelihood of finding it behind a bar than other rums that I would drink straight (e.g., Smith & Cross, or rhum agricole). With that said, I never drink Gosling’s on its own. The distillery owns the trademark for “Dark ‘N’ Stormy,” so there’s that. But never on its own. But boy, oh boy, these two are yummy together. The sweetness of the rum and spice complement the chocolaty creaminess of the Merlin. I would pour my shot into the beer next time. Again, the chances of your finding the Merlin at a dive bar might be slim, so if you don’t see it anywhere, grab a Guinness. “A Guinness has a dry and roasty flavor profile, so adding the sweetness of the Gosling’s will bring a nice counterbalance,” Jason says. If they don’t have a Guinness, walk out.

Porter/Whiskey

“If someone asks what an American porter is, this is it to a T,” says Jason. “This is the beer a lot of people point to as the classic one in this category. There are a couple of producers that do one — Sierra Nevada makes a good porter. But Deschutes Black Butte Porter is generally thought of as THE porter for American style. They’re usually low ABV too.” That’s news to me. And if you’re as ignorant about porters as I am, keep reading. “Because bourbon and rye have been really popular over the past decade, the breweries rest their porters in bourbon and rye barrels. So, for me, this is a no-brainer.” This is one of the reasons I like Jason. Out of the park. One gulp of the Black Butte followed by a swig of Maker’s Mark (again, pretty much a trademark whiskey in myriad bars) pulls Jason’s theory together. The porter was dry on the end and having whiskey in between sips lent an oakiness to my palate. We both agreed that this was our favorite of the night. Bourbons tend to be sweeter than rye, but rye has spice. Me likey the spice. So next time, I’m having a porter with rye, that’s a what’s up, for sure.

In the pre-Jason era, when I paired beer and spirits, I’d make up my own boilermaker — by definition a shot of whiskey dropped into a glass filled halfway with beer. It was usually an IPA and a rye whiskey. Why? Because at the time, those were my favorite styles of beer and whiskey to drink on their own. As soon as I arrived at my getaway drink spot, that’s all it took to wash my Scrooge demeanor away. Now, as the saying goes, I got options.  OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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