Mixing it up with hoptails

Cocktail. Have you seen it? If you haven't, don't waste your time. It's as old as me and has aged far worse. Some may point to that movie as the beginning of Tom Cruise turning to Scientology. I just think it's rubbish.

Cocktails, however, are far less painful. They can be as simple as a Cuba libre, as refreshing as a mouth-puckering margarita or as simple as the classic Old Fashioned. 

As nice as they are, cocktails are often not practical to make at home. I don't have a bar-load of spirits hanging around my house. Even if I did, I'm not one to fluff around with muddling, stirring, shaking and slicing before I have something to sip on. It is half the reason I brew beer instead of distilling spirits.

But sometimes it's nice to spice things up a bit and make your beer a bit more interesting. Which, I'm sure, is where beer cocktails came into being. They sound a bit weird at first, but when you think about it they're not as mad as you think; I challenge any barfly to claim they have never heard of the Snakebite or the Shandy.

In Central America, the Michelada is one of the more common hoptails. Bugger just putting a slice of lemon or lime in the neck of your Corona, Sol or - if you only drink New Zealand beer - Three Boys Tres Amigos Cervesa - when you can add Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, peppers and salt as well! Best compared to the beer version of a Bloody Mary, it is far more refreshing than it sounds. It is also far nicer than the Bloody Mary's Mexican cousin, the Bloody Maria.

Hoptails don't have to hide the flavour of the beer though. They can also be used to enhance it. Next time you have a wheat beer like Hoegaarden try pouring it over a glass packed with ice, a nip of spiced rum, a squeeze of lemon and some bitters. The rum will bring the spicy notes of the beer forward, while the lemon juice will compliment the orange peel flavour you get in most Belgian white beers.

Wheat beers are some of the best to use in hoptails. The low bitterness, fluffy texture and big fruit aromas help compliment a number of ingredients. A lemony Three Boys Wheat will go well with more delicate spirits, while a dark wheat like a Schneider Aventinus - with all its cinnamon, nutmeg, freshly ground coffee and caramelised banana flavours - could handle bigger spirits like peated whisky.

Dark beers also seem to work best, as they are far more forgiving. Turn a stout or porter into the most refreshing dark drink around, the Black Velvet, by going half-and-half with some sparkling wine.  For the smoothest of mid-winter warmers, put a dash of warm cream into your 8 Wired iStout. Or, if you feel
like a more adult version of a cream soda, mix one part vanilla liqueur with two parts soda. Then pour some creamy Guinness on top and you're away laughing.

There are plenty of people who would balk at the thought of adding cream, beetroot, salt or cured meat to beer. But why not? I'm sure the first person to make whisky didn't make it for cocktails. The same has to go for wine. So don't be scared to mix it up a bit with your beer. You may just like it more that way.

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