Detroiter320 Main, Seal Beach, (2012)

Good-tasting beer cocktails understand that beer is already a finished product, then look to enhance and support what’s already there. Same goes for champagne, sherry… hell, even good-quality sipping spirits don’t need an assist from citrus, sugar, or whatnot. But when balanced thoughtfully, beer cocktails work great. And thinking about balance is just what got Jason Schiffer at 320 Main going on one of their most popular original cocktails, the Detroiter. On paper, it doesn’t sound like it will work… but take that first sip and you’ll get it. A balancing act of bitter, sweet, and just enough tartness evoke the fall flavors of apple and spice without tipping into the obvious Pumpkin Spice Latte category.

I asked Jason what inspired this drink, originally called the Michigander and made without the beer component. He says, “I was missing my favorite time of the year back home in Michigan – remembering pumpkin-carving parties my Mom took me to when I was a kid, raking leaves, and making cider from the apples we foraged in nearby orchards. I had this picture in my mind with these nostalgic tastes and smells. Applejack was an obvious place to start, and it only seemed natural to gravitate toward Cynar to mimic the earthy smells of the fall leaves. This original drink was called the Michigander – it starts a little on the sweet side and finishes somewhat drier so it works. Then, the Detroiter was born when a couple guys came in asking for a beer cocktail. We didn’t have one at the time, so I figured the Michigander’s front-end sweetness should stand up to a nice, dry beer. I knew hoppy beers pair well with bitter spirits, so IPA it went. Adjusting the recipe a bit and bringing in the high proof of the bonded Laird’s apple brandy instead of their 80-proof ‘applejack’ zeroes out any possible unpleasant bitterness from the hops and the Cynar.”

The grapefruit twist garnish is essential – its mix of bitter, sweet, and tart echoes what’s going on in the glass and helps it all make sense. To hit the right notes in this drink, look for a good-quality IPA like Ballast Point’s Sculpin, Russian River’s Blind Pig, AleSmith IPA, or if you really like a blast of hops, Stone’s Double Dry Hopped.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Muddler, Barspoon, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker), Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirit: Applejack (Laird’s apple brandy 100 proof)
Mixers: Cynar, Beer (India Pale Ale), Honey syrup (three parts honey mixed with one part hot water)
Juice & Garnish: Lemon juice, Grapefruit twist

HOW TO

In an empty shaker, add:
1 oz Cynar
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
3/4 oz applejack
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz honey syrup
Dry shake briefly to blend and release some carbonation from the beer. Add ice and shake again to chill. Double-strain (to catch small bits of ice and citrus pulp) into a rocks glass over ice cubes. Add an extra:
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
Stir to blend. Pinch a grapefruit twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.

You’ll just have to drink the leftover beer, darn the luck.

New York City (1908)

This formerly-obscure gem will convert your friends who still think of a cocktail as an “Appletini.” It’s fruity, tart, and snappy when done correctly. With only three ingredients in perfect balance, precise measurement is a must – along with the finest ingredients you can locate. The Laird family has been making spirits in New Jersey for 300 years (George Washington is on record having asked for their recipe) and they knock it out of the park with their 100-proof Apple Brandy. But mind their labels – Laird’s has another one called just “Applejack” that’s heavily cut with neutral spirits, skip it. Find the sweetest, juiciest limes you’re able to. And the crowning touch is a batch of homemade grenadine (easier than you think, recipe below).

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Applejack (recommended: Laird’s 100-proof Apple Brandy)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Grenadine
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz applejack
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz grenadine

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

GRENADINE

Real pomegranate Grenadine is miles above the common artificial kind and can be made easily at home. Mix one cup of freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice (if in season) or 100% unsweetened pomegranate juice (like POM brand) with one cup of white sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it’s cool, add one and a half teaspoons of orange flower water – easily found at Middle Eastern markets or online. Adding an ounce of 100-proof vodka will keep it from spoiling too fast. Keep refrigerated. Will last about 3 months.

Stirrings and Monin are good commercial alternatives if you’re not up for the five minutes this takes.