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One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer Cocktail

Examining the fine history of mixing spirits and brew

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Jacksonville is rife with outstanding cocktail bars. Names like Dos Gatos, Sidecar and Lemon Bar leap to mind. But ask where to get a good beer cocktail and you’re likely to hear crickets. That’s a real shame, because the beer cocktail has been around for millennia and America was–and still could be–an innovator in the art form that can be, according to a pro we know, the best of both worlds.

In beer’s infancy, it often took on strange flavors; in modern terms, it got skunked. Brewing methods, ingredients and theories varied widely and wildly. To sell folks the fouled fermentables, all kinds of flavors went in. One notable elixir, found in King Midas’ tomb, included grapes and honey. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s modern-day version is Midas Touch.

Fast-forward several thousand years to when beer was a common ingredient in cocktails from the mundane to the bizarre. Beer may have played a huge role in the founding of our great nation, but in our society’s early days, it wasn’t very good. Beer shipped from Germany and England was far superior. Hence, other forms of alcohol–rum and fine ciders–were popular. Beer made a comeback during a minor tiff between the Colonies and Britain in the late 1700s.

Mixing beer with other alcohols became The Thing, spawning drinks like Rattle-Skull (dark beer, rum, lime juice, nutmeg), Flip (beer, sugar, rum, eggs, served hot) and Syllabub (cider, egg whites, sugar, lemon). You gotta hand it to the colonists–they were inventive.

Among the more infamous beer cocktails is the Irish Car Bomb. Whoever gave it that name was just plain insensitive and quite possibly a total jerk. The drink: Guinness, with a shot of Baileys Irish Cream and Jameson Irish Whiskey thrown in. Despite what many think, the drink is Irish in name only due to its ingredients. It was first mixed here in the U.S. of A. Order one in Ireland and you get the bartender’s death stare or even a love tap in the face from an Irish fist. Car bombs were a go-to tactical weapon during The Troubles (1968-’98) as Irish Catholics warred against Irish Protestants.

Another shot-in-a-beer drink is the boilermaker, elixir of the great unwashed. Just as porter was named for the hardworking men who drank it (London baggage handlers were “perters”), the boilermaker is so called for railroad machinists who ran steam-powered locomotives. It’s said the men would finish a shift and head straight to the pub for a shot and a pint. There are two schools of thought on how to drink it: One contends the shot should be drunk first, then the beer; the other avers the full shot glass is dropped in the beer and the whole thing drunk. Both agree whiskey is always the shot.

More cocktails made with beer are the snake bite, black-and-tan and peach beer mimosa–grand content for another column.

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South Kitchen & Spirits is offering  a beer cocktail called Cooped Up on the Beach from Aug. 2-9.

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