The Beer Fizz: A World of Possibilities
Mixing with beer made easy. Far beyond infusions, bitters and exotic spirits, a tiny microcosm in the cocktail universe waits to truly be discovered. Let’s take a brief tour of the worlds of flavor to be found with the Beer Fizz.
We hear often enough that good beer is a formidable mixer, and not just with the familiar standards like shandies. Thanks to the expansion of the beer landscape with today’s craft beer scene, we also now have an unlimited range of flavors just waiting for their premier in creative mixological potions.
Beer in the bar? Yep. Beer in a cocktail? What?!
But the reality on the ground is a different story. The proportion of bars serving great beer along with tasty cocktails or highballs mixed with beer is small. And that’s a shame! It’s not even as risky a prospect as it might sound at first. Even given the stand-alone positions beers are fond of guarding so preciously for themselves, the diversity and breath of fresh air they offer in combination with other ingredients offers unlimited appeal. So to break down some of the resistance to that first tentative contact between beer and the big wide world of mixing possibilities, today we’re going to look at a simple drink that’s currently making a name for itself as an easy-to-handle and infinitely variable new hit: the Beer Fizz.
The Fizz or Collins as we know it is an old friend. Take your favorite liquor, add sugar and sour, pep it up and stretch it with a little soda and then sit back and enjoy a delightful refreshment, day or night! Beyond its role as a thinner, the soda’s carbonation also adds two more great features, the first of which is a light, delicate mouthfeel. Second and equally important, the carbonation forms the bubbly pearls that keep the drink “moving” like champagne, constantly transporting the flavors to the surface.
The only downside with soda is that it dilutes the drink’s flavors without adding any taste components of its own. Some bartenders compensate this in today’s Fizz varieties by adding other fillers to retain more taste, but the soft drinks used most frequently as fillers can also bring too much sweetness. This can be countered to some extent by reducing the amount of syrup or liqueur, but later on the consumer can tell that soda pop was used as a filler because of its characteristic sweetness, which doesn’t fit in as smoothly as the sugar shaken into the mix before.
Beer does the trick!
This is where beer comes to the rescue. Along with the active carbonation found primarily in bottom-fermented styles like pilsner or lager, beer also brings its own treasure trove of flavors while adding dryness as opposed to sweetness. A few years back Jeffrey Morgenthaler tackled the popular UK beverage “Shandy”, a mixture of beer and lemonade, with a theory as brilliant and precise as it is simple: “The point is not to make the beer fruity or sweet. The point is to add dryness to the lemonade”. Beer can do the same thing in a Fizz while also bringing a virtually unlimited range of taste nuances to the mix!
Fizzes based on white liquors are especially easy to take in a completely new direction just by adding a touch of lively, fruity beer. Take the Vodka Fizz, for instance. Topping it off with a good lager can give this classic far more character. The malty freshness and delicate bitterness of a lager or a light pilsner underscores the vodka’s grainy notes. The result is a new Fizz that’s fresh and complex but not overwhelming, making it an ideal try-out for cocktail beginners.
Gin Fizz 2.0
The excitement picks up a notch with gin and white or gold rum. The ideal partner brews here are strong Czech pilsners, or alternatively relatively light Pale Ales, loaded up as they are with a fruit basket all their own. A Gin Fizz topped with a Pale Ale instead of soda expands and multiplies the cocktail’s flavor structure in unimagined ways, using simple mixology to create a nevertheless astounding drink! Depending on the type of beer and the hops used to brew it, a Fizz can take on traits ranging from lemony to exotic, herbal or flowery, all while retaining a crisp, refreshing dryness that no soda can deliver. The right garnish to emphasize the flavor sensations even more can range from a variety of zests to mint, dried fruits and seasonal berries. Beers with Polaris hops produce a Fizz with ethereal freshness, while Mandarina, Chinook or Citra hops add a boost of lemon and orange. In contrast, Mosaic hops open up a world of ripe mango, apricot and melon.
Wheat beer can give the whole mix a special twist. The strong carbonation in a “Weizen”, along with its characteristic banana, vanilla and fruit ester notes, lends an unanticipated zing to the Fizz, especially in combination with the grassy freshness of a Blanco Tequila. The beer’s hops also produce a longer lasting finish on the palate that no conventional Fizz can compete with. The only “no-no” ingredient is egg white: It produces too much foam when pouring that can easily get out of control and simply make the mix too time-consuming.
The new dessert date
But the possibilities don’t stop with light, fruity drinks for summery BBQ evenings. Fizz innovations can also be created using heavier alternatives like bourbon or mature rum joined with a full-bodied stout or barley wine. The kinds of Fizz combinations that normally harmonize with effervescent orange juice often take on the role of true sipping drinks with a deeper character when beer is added, revealing notes of sal ammoniac, cloves, dark caramel, anise, treacle or toffee as the perfect accompaniment to dessert! Dark beer varieties in particular, with their reserved but highly refined carbonation, also add an otherwise unknown creaminess to the Fizz. This eliminates the need for bitters, because beer and spirits together already produce a complexity rarely found elsewhere.
So as we see, while the whole Beer Fizz issue can seem a little peculiar at first, especially for the less initiated, what we have here is in fact a huge, virtually untapped goldmine for today’s bar culture. Hopefully more and more bartenders will look into its potential. Throwing a little beer into the mix can surprise and satisfy customers with combinations that are far more innovative and sophisticated than today’s accustomed beer mixes. And we haven’t even talked about the choice of syrup yet. A good Beer Fizz is nothing less than a delicacy brimming with everything a contemporary drink needs. And to top it off, it’s even easy to make!
Translation by J.J. Collier