If you know one thing about German beer, it’s likely something about the purity laws – the Reinheitsgebot. Last year, the country celebrated 500 years of allowing only grains, hops, water, and yeast in anything called beer.
So I was shocked to learn that Germans love mixing cola and beer, according to my pal/Certified Cicerone/beer + food pairing expert Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food. As a man who loves cola and beer separately, that sounded… disgusting. It’s a drink you’d only try on a dare. How could someone think that tasted good?
Then again, I’d never tried it. And since I’m always up for an experiment, I decided to try mixing Coke with a few different types of beer styles to see what tasted best. Since buying a few bottles of cola and a variety of beers seemed cheaper than flying to Germany, I experimented with mixing the two ingredients with Cummings.
He’d sipped plenty of this seemingly gross combo in his lifetime because he’d spent part of his childhood there, and would act as my guide through the taste-test. But before we tried cola and beer together, I decided to learn a little bit more about it.
The drinking age in Germany is 16. Well, sort of. You can legally drink even when you’re 13, provided you have an adult present. You can drink at 16 without any supervision. When I was 16, my favorite drink was a Coke float I’d order off the McDonald’s secret menu. So you can’t quite blame someone that age for not fully appreciating the malty notes of a dunkel.
Enter: colabier. “That’s what they called it in Germany where I grew up,” Cummings said. “And then colabier became synonymous with Cab, which is one of the popular brands. It has a dragon logo on it. It’s kind of like Kleenex and Levi’s – it’s the brand standard for colabier.” Cab is brewed by Krombacher, is flavored with tropical dragonfruit, and has a rating of 1 on RateBeer. Ah crap, was this whole experiment going to be a horrible mistake?
Colabier could be the next radler.”
As you might imagine by those not-so-stellar reviews, Cab is not enjoyed by all Germans. Just the younger ones with undeveloped palates. The older, more sophisticated German beer drinkers (which is to say, most Germans over the age of 18), look down upon colabier enthusiasts.
But you know what other kinds of beers many Germans frown upon for anyone who’s already gone through puberty? Radlers. And there’s the rub. Radlers are a heady mix of beer and lemonade or fruit juice, and are absolutely delicious. If you’ve never enjoyed a cold Stiegl Radler Grapefruit or a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy on an 80 degree day, you’re missing out. If it’s hot out and you have a mouth with which to drink beer, radlers are great choices.
Here’s my theory: if we know that so many Germans are wrong for thinking radlers should only be enjoyed by young people, what if those same Germans are wrong about colabier too? Colabier could be the next radler. Stop hiding all the good stuff from us, Germany!
But before I taste-tested colabier, I wanted to learn more about what was in it. Do the brewers just throw any old beer style in there because they figure the cola will overpower it? Sort of! “The brewer doesn’t tell you what style of beer they’re using,” said Cummings. “They’re all light lagers, clearly. It’s likely a pilsner base, and it’s typically either low-hopped or not hopped at all.”
And even though Cab is widely available, some bars create a custom mix of colabier. Bitburger, a mass market German pilsner, is often used. As for the drink’s percentage of beer and cola, it’s up to you! “People prefer different ratios,” explained Cummings. “It’s usually around 25-50% cola. There’s certainly alcohol in the drink, but you get a pick-me-up, too. It’s awkwardly German in a surprising way, and yet it’s so counterpoint to their beer laws.”
After I learned about colabier, I felt ready to start experimenting with it. But since my only qualifications for writing this story are that I have a German-sounding last name and watched three-quarters of that show Conan did in Germany, I let Cummings select the beers to pair with the Mexican Coke. After all, he’s a Cicerone and a seasoned colabier drinker.
There’s one important rule for doing this taste-test on your own: if you have the option, do not buy a two liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Instead, opt for glass bottles of Mexican Coke, which is less sweet than its American counterpart. Here’s a ranking of the five beers we tried, all of which featured a 50/50 ratio of Coke to beer.
5) Upslope Citra Pale Ale
While this beer is subjectively “the best” beer in the lineup, it was a complete bummer to discover that it didn’t mix with Coke. Boulder, Colardo's Upslope is one of my favorite breweries in the whole dang world. It’s almost like they didn’t brew this to pair with Coke! And it didn’t pair well. While it smelled fruity and delicious, the cola flavors were ultimately overpowered by the hops. The finish was unspeakable. Best to just sip this beer on its own. And let this be a lesson: if you try this at home, do not mix Coke with a hoppy beer.
4) Erdinger Dunkel
Strangely, the only German-brewed beer we tried didn’t pair well with the Coke. I thought it tasted like watered down Coke that had been sitting on a kitchen counter for a while. Cummings noted that while the beer is flavorful on its own, the cola didn’t offer enough counterbalance to the dunkel, and it ended up being a one-note drink. And you do not want to listen to that note.
3) Trumer Pils
Don’t let the fact that this came in third fool you: the German-style pils from Berkeley is an excellent pairing with Mexican Coke. We even poured this beer into the Coke without any prior refrigeration. Why? Cummings said that Germans don’t refrigerate their beer, instead opting to keep it in cellars that are naturally cool. Being that I am not a huge fan of pilsners, and I like my beer to be cold, I already gave this two strikes. And then I tried it.
To say that I was surprised by how good this tasted is an understatement. Here’s exactly what I said after I took my first sip: “That’s actually pretty good. What the f*ck? That’s f*cking good! What the hell? What is happening right now?”
I’ll tell you what’s happening: it tastes like sweet tea! If you love the taste of the South’s favorite cold drink on a hot day, but also want a little booze to take the edge off, I can’t recommend this enough.
It didn’t smell good after mixing it together. I assumed it would taste revolting, too.”
I did not have high hopes that a big yellow can of Mexican-style pilsner would make for a good mixer. Granted, it is a pilsner, which was a good sign considering how well the Trumer/Coke combo worked out. But Cummings noted the drink looked like “watered-down Coke” except for there was head on it somehow. But because I’m a trooper, I powered through its looks and took a sip. It tasted like a boozy Arnold Palmer. Success!
Cummings said it was a weird “inbetween” drink, because it was tough to tell if it had alcohol in it or not. And after we briefly talked about low and no-alcohol cocktails, it hit me. This tasted like a no-alcohol fauxtail at one of my favorite restaurants in the world: Boulder’s Oak at Fourteenth. Oak’s drink is called Tea Time, and features black tea, housemade non-alcoholic ginger beer, lavender, and rhubarb bitters. Granted, this concoction we'd made doesn’t have the depth of flavor of Tea Time, but it’s also solely made of Pacifico and Mexican Coke. Unbelievable.
1) New Belgium Fat Tire
After hitting a double and a home run with Trumer and Pacifico respectively, New Belgium’s classic American amber was a grand slam. Before trying this, I openly wondered if I should’ve mixed the Coke with an American adjunct lager instead. (Side note: Cummings said any adjunct should work great, too). It didn’t smell good after mixing it together. I assumed it would taste revolting, too. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.
“It’s really chocolatey,” said Cummings. “It tastes like a Tootsie Roll! It’s got a biscuity, bready thing going on.” He was right. If you like chocolate in your beer, you’re going to love this. Since New Belgium has had a lot of success teaming up with Ben & Jerry’s for a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough beer, it might also want to consider a Fat Tire x Tootsie Roll collab brew.
The best part is, you probably have cans of Fat Tire in your fridge right now! When springtime comes to your city, I’d recommend saving a can and mixing it with some Mexican Coke. Don’t let the disdain of millions of Germans stop you from enjoying this underappreciated beer cocktail.