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You Don’t Need a Beach to Enjoy These Tropical Cocktail-Inspired Beers

July 29, 2020

By Bailey Berg, July 29, 2020

When the brewers at Shades Brewing said they wanted to take their Great American Beer Festival gold medal award-winning golden sour and add pineapple, coconut, and lactose to mimic a piña colada for a one-off seasonal brew, their colleagues weren’t convinced.

“I was skeptical about it,” said Kurt Flickinger, head of sales at Shades Brewing. “I’m an old-school beer guy and it sounded like a bit much. But we brewed it and it took off on us. Its popularity has been amazing.”

Now the beachy beer is divorced from seasonality and served in their Salt Lake City taproom and in various bottle shops year-round. 

Shades Brewing isn’t the only brewery that’s crafting beers that channel blended, paper-umbrella-touting cocktails you’d find in tropical locales. This year, a myriad of other breweries across the country have launched ales that are flavor twins to palomas, mojitos, hurricanes, daiquiris, mai tais, and margaritas. For them, it’s not about trying to compete with the ready-to-drink canned cocktails that have risen in popularity over the last few years. Rather it’s a recipe to bring a new demographic of drinkers to the table. 

“What’s nice about this beer is that it’s still a beer,” Flickinger said. “It has just enough of a twist that people who typically aren’t beer drinkers are interested in trying it and are surprised to learn they do like it, while still being something new and tasty for regular beer drinkers to enjoy.”

Jason Santamaria of Second Self Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia said that he hopes his mai tai berliner weisse (brewed with pineapple, orange and pomegranate) and paloma sour (made with smoked wheat and grapefruit peel to mimic the drinks boozy muse in terms of smokiness and juiciness) opens his patrons up to new things, regardless of whether their usual beverage of choice is served in a pint or collins glass.

It also gives someone who isn’t familiar with certain beer styles a reference point and an inviting door into the malt moshpit. With any luck, guests will learn the zesty flavor profile that made their tequila sunrise suds sing are also found in yeast of other saisons.

Santamaria argues that brews with acidic bases, like American-style sour ales, pair well with equatorial produce like pineapple and guava, therefore overlapping with beverages in the cocktail canon. Similarly, the savoriness of goses echo the salted rim of a margarita or paloma and certain hop strains used in IPAs boast flavors and aromas that mirror the fruit juices found in beach-friendly cocktails.

Beyond Second Self and Shades, recently DESTIHL Brewery in Normal, Illinois made a front porch fiesta in the form of a piña colada gose; Cigar City in Miami and Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge each made paloma-inspired ales; and Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey, California has launched a series of cocktail-inspired beers this summer, including a kettle sour with banana, lime, and lactose to mimic a strawberry banana daiquiri and a fruited West Coast IPA that evokes mai tais. And that’s just to name a few.

While those breweries have sought to evoke the refreshing nature of their namesake cocktail, others have skewed towards another element of cocktails: booziness.

Firestone Walker does a decidedly not crushable beer that sips like a heavy-handed tequila sunrise. It’s a viscous blonde barleywine aged in Extra Anejo tequila barrels. Similarly, John Linn, who serves as Marketing Director of Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida, said that while their bevvies might be a vacation in a glass, the ABV associated with them doesn’t necessarily make them appropriate for drinking games in the sun. 

“They’re very high alcohol and generally pretty rich beverages so to me they’re more of something to savor and enjoy as a personal treat,” Linn said of Funky Buddha’s Mixology Series.

The series lineup is nothing but barrel-aged brewskis, including a margarita gose aged in tequila barrels with agave nectar, lime and sea salt; a white sangria saison aged in chardonnay barrels with grape must, apples, and peaches; and a zombie ale, a rum barrel-aged red ale with fruits and spices.

Linn argues that beers that pay homage to coastally crafted punches, in any regard, create an easy segue for those looking to enjoy a beer, even if they’re not acquainted to the “traditional” beer taste and make beer more welcoming to everyone. Mitt Wilkinson of Funky Buddha Brewing echoes that sentiment, “Beach beers can transport your taste buds and state of mind to an all-inclusive slice of beer-adise.” 

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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