In the dark days before the craft beer renaissance, the only beer cocktail you might encounter at any bar was a Boilermaker (shot of whiskey chased by a beer) or an Irish Car Bomb (a shot of whiskey dropped into a pint of Guinness topped with Bailey's Irish Cream).
But how things have changed. The insatiable interest in craft beer has brought a whole new lineup of cocktails, ones made with beer.
A Radler is a mixture of carbonated lemonade and lager, while a Diesel is similar, made with cola and lager or wheat beer. The Bavarians have been quaffing both of these concoctions forever. In West Ashley, the Glass Onion (1219 Savannah Hwy. West Ashley. 843-225-1717) offers their rendition of a Radler, cutting Miller High Life (the "champagne of beers") with fresh lemonade for $2.50 a glass. Light, citrusy, and effervescent, it's a perfect warm weather thirst quencher.
Another common beer cocktail is the Michelada, which most Mexican cantinas offer a version of. Both Taco Boy locations (15 Center St. Folly Beach. 843-588-9761; 217 Huger St. Downtown. 843-789-3333) mix Mexican lagers with fresh lime juice and hot sauce and serve it over ice with a salted rim. It costs the price of the beer plus an extra buck.
Laura Alberts Tasteful Options (891 Island Park Drive #B. Daniel Island. 843-881-4711) takes the beer cocktail much further with an entire menu of summer libations created by resident beer enthusiast Elliot Elsey. He has two Americanized Diesel-style drinks for $4 a pop — the Brackish D'light (pale ale and Diet Coke) and Creek Juice (pale ale and regular Coca-Cola).
The Kölsch-a-rita ($6) mixes COAST's 32/50 Kölsch beer with margarita mix and pours it over ice in a salt-rimmed glass goblet, garnished with lemon and orange slices. A fluorescent pale green, it's far less sugary than traditional tequila-based margaritas. The citrus complements the bready maltiness of the ale and adds a refreshing beer flavor. The 32/50 Kölsch also plays a role in the much sweeter Fuzzy Naval Brew ($6), made with peach nectar and orange juice.
More a dessert than a refreshing beer drink, the Island Pluff Mud ($6) is a creamy float made with coffee ice cream, stout beer, and chocolate syrup. Patrons can request a dry or mild stout (Brooklyn Brewing's Black Chocolate Stout works well). Served in a wide, chocolate-rimmed goblet with a straw and a long spoon, it's a decadently rich beer cocktail worth sharing.
The most flavorful libation on Laura Alberts' special beer menu is the Bloody Mary Brew ($6), made with either pilsner lager or pale ale. Beer and Bloody Marys aren't a new concept, but Laura Alberts' version is rather complex. To the beer they add Charleston Bloody Mary Mix and a big pinch of black pepper, which gets served in a glass rimmed in Old Bay seasoning and garnished with stuffed olive, banana pepper, pickled okra, and a stalk of celery. It has the spicy tang of a traditional Bloody Mary, but it's thinner in body and more delicate.
Social Wine Bar (188 East Bay St. Downtown. 843-577-5665) is an oasis for wine drinkers, but it boasts an increasingly impressive craft beer and cocktail menu. The Black Velvet ($8) is made with stout (they suggest Duck Rabbit Milk Stout from N.C.) and La Bubbly Brut, a sparkling wine crafted by Social owner and sommelier Brad Ball. They also have a take on the Michelada. Theirs is made with Pacifico beer, lime, cilantro, and the locally produced Fat and Juicy Bloody Mix.
Social bar manager Zach Smith recently developed a variation on the Bloody Mary with the Bloody Bangkok-Charkoota Rye ($8). He blends a high gravity smoked doppelbock with Thai chili, sriracha hot sauce, chopped Thai basil, jalapeño-infused simple syrup, and Fat and Juicy Bloody Mix. Initially fruity-sweet with a burst of ripe tomato and basil flavors, it gets more fiery with each sip.
Some of the most experimental beer cocktails come from the most creative mixologists at the Gin Joint (182 East Bay St. Downtown. 843-577-6111) and the Cocktail Club (479 King St. Downtown).
Gin Joint owner Joe Raya and mixologist Mick Matricciano make a delicate Biere Domfrontais ($10), their featured beer cocktail, which is rotated on-and-off the cocktail menu, but they'll mix it any time upon request. This fruity, aromatic libation is made with Poire Williams Eu de Vie (pear brandy), Cherry Heering (black cherry liqueur), Bénédictine (herbal liqueur), fresh lemon, and pale ale. Served on the rocks in a sturdy old-fashioned glass, it's amber in color with an aroma of cinnamon, oak, and apple.
While distilled beverages are the priority at the newly opened Cocktail Club, veteran bartender Jonathan Calo and beverage manager Jasmine Beck have two very special beer cocktails on the menu — the Fiery Belgian ($8) and the Rise and Shine ($8).
Based on the clove-accented, mildly tart Flemish witbier ("white beer") Wittekerke, the Fiery Belgian includes small amounts of Domaine de Canton and French-aged Crème de Casis with fresh blackberries as a garnish. Calo says it's designed to resemble a Lambic-style Framboise ale. It's fruity but delightfully dry in the finish — equally a refresher and aperitif.
The Rise and Shine, on the other hand, is bold and rich ("better than a protein shake," states the menu). Eight ounces of Left Handed Milk Stout is blended with very dark, well-aged Ron Zapaco rum, heavy cream, and organic egg whites. They shake it hard and long to emulsify and serve it foamy in a snifter glass with a light drizzle of Angostura bitters. While certainly a unique breakfast cocktail, this heavy hitter will likely become quite popular as the weather chills out.