We mix wines. We mix spirits. We mix foods and medications and hip hop tapes. We even mix races nowadays. So why don’t we mix beers?
This is the question that stumped me over fall break as I sat on the bank of the James River, overlooking the beautiful downtown skyline of Richmond by night. I was at the Legend Brewing Company pub, following up on a random tip from a comrade-in-beer. As often happens, one tip leads to another, and when I asked my waiter at Legend what his favorite house beer was, he surprised me with some advice that you don’t often hear among craft-brew purists these days. “My favorite is to mix the golden ale and the brown ale,” he said.
What? Mix beers? At first I was positively shocked by the idea. Then I was intrigued. Then, after some deliberation, I sampled the mix. And just like that I was sold. A pint of the elixir mixture for me, please!
Many drinkers are familiar with the black & tan, a traditional one-two punch of stout (or porter) and pale ale (or blond lager) originating in the British Isles. But outside of B & T’s there are few popular beer mixtures. That means that there is lots of room to explore mixing beers, which was just what I intended when I dropped by the Carrboro Beverage Company on Thursday with a hankering to build my own five-pack. Fired by my experience in Richmond, I chose five distinct beer styles with clearly contrasting
flavors (pilsner, kölsch, brown ale, IPA and porter) and took turns pairing them together. The results were mostly positive, and constitute my beer advice for this week.
Jever Pilsner (1/2) & Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (1/2):
This was definitely the best of the beer mixtures. Jever is a fairly bitter pilsner and Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo is hoppy on the nose and mildly bitter in body. When they mix, though, they form a beautiful bright golden color and balance each other perfectly. The bitterness of the IPA is freshened by the crispness of the Jever. Basically, it has all the flavor of a complex ale, but is much more drinkable. It’s classic synergy, where the sum is equal to more than the parts. Seriously, try this combo, or your own
variety with your favorite pilsner and single, double, extra or Indian pale ale.
Big Boss “Bad Penny” Brown Ale (1/2) & Duck Rabbit Porter:
Both these beers have relatively heavy bodies and strong aromas, but when mixed the porter’s in your face toasty flavor wins the day. Nothing special happens from there. There’s no significant body change and it isn’t any more overwhelming or unbalanced than a usual porter, despite the fact that it’s a combination of two darker, heavier beers. It does manage to be both toasty and nutty simultaneously, which is nice. It’s recommendable, but don’t go out of your way for it.
Big Boss “Bad Penny” Brown Ale (1/3) & Gaffel Kölsch (2/3):
Pouring the dark brown Bad Penny into the weak bodied blond Gaffel gives the mixture an instant dye, dark brown. The resulting body is watery after its German component, but without the subtle lagered ale flavor typical of the best kölsches, at the same time that it loses the rich, nutty caramel of the brown ale. It turns out a flat, deflated beer that is certainly not well balanced. This mix is an all around no-go.
Duck Rabbit Porter (2/5) & Gaffel Kölsch (3/5):
After the last combo, I was dreading this one. I worried that the super-strong porter with the super-malleable kölsch would be a beer-combo train wreck. How pleasantly wrong I was. The aroma of this mixture is sickly sweet and not very appealing, but the kölsch lightens the body of the mix to a delicious, mellow and balanced brew. The porter still pokes through with notes of toasted malts and even coffee, but made much lighter and more bearable. This was the most surprising of the mixtures I tried, and the best reminder of the unpredictable beauty of beer mixtures in general.
That’s it for my experiments in beer cross-breeding this week. I’m excited about having a new horizon in my beer world, and hope you get some enjoyment out of it too. So hit up your nearest bottle shop and build your own six-pack, being sure to let your combinative imagination run wild. Until next week I wish you, as always, happy drinking!
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