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Tapping into beer cocktails

Well-crafted cocktails prove beer could be your new favorite mixer

By Columbus Alive
From the Fall 2013 edition
  • Photos by Ryan M.L.Young

If beer sloshed into mixed drinks sounds like a half-cocked notion—or a wholly cockamamie one—then check out what the James Beard Award-winning, undisputed heavyweight champion of the American cocktail revolution had to say about it. I’m referring to famed writer David Wondrich, who observed that “one of the ancestors of the cocktail itself is a beer drink … made with bitter herbs and beer.”

When you think about it, beer libations seem like a natural fit—especially during summer when the chilly dryness and carbonation that suds can lend prove most refreshing. Yet while beer-tails have been rapidly spreading in other urban areas over the past few years, they’re just now gaining traction in Columbus. This prompted a thirsty search that turned up the following leaders of the six-pack cocktail movement.

Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails fashions a fine gateway brew-kissed highball called The Alice Wing ($6.50). Named for the pioneering owner of The Grapevine—the former gay club whose space Tip Top now occupies—it’s kind of like an adult red pop.

About as dry as it is sweet, The Alice Wing is a pleasantly fizzy and berry-forward drink with a sneaky kick. Plus, it synergistically brings out the best in all of its ingredients: vodka, ginger ale and a Lindeman’s Framboise raspberry splash.

Fans of DeepWood—and I obviously qualify—know this edgy-thinking but relaxed place enjoys a good pun. Witness its tongue-in-cheek named, but judiciously conceived, Good-“Ale” Park ($7).

Made with Seventh Son’s Humulus Nimbus (a super pale ale), this clever, primarily beer elixir amplifies the bold hop flavors of its starring brew by adding orange and pine liqueurs. The liqueurs also tease out a pretty little floral aspect and slightly soften and sweeten the ale’s mid-palate bitterness—yet the cocktail prudently retains the beer’s refreshingly crisp finish.

You might expect an operation calling itself World of Beer would incorporate its namesake hooch into a cocktail or two. You’d be right. Actually, most of this national chain’s cocktails (which clock in at $10 apiece) take advantage of suds, as I discovered in its raucous Brewery District outlet.

Among other strategies, WOB—which uses freshly squeezed citrus—will mix hefeweizen with amaretto and orange juice (Florida Squeeze); will add blueberry wheat ale to vodka and cranberry (Beerberry Cosmo); or will blend said blueberry wheat ale with gin and lemon juice (Gin and Jam).

Since I couldn’t resist another silly-named sip, I pulled the trigger on WOB’s Margar(IPA). It combines a healthy glug of Patron Silver tequila with Dragonfly IPA, a bit of simple syrup and some fresh citrus. The result is a mildly effervescent, cuts-above margarita that’s light and dry and nice for warm days.

I sampled another margarita-esque drink—this one more creative and complex—at the best source of beer cocktails in Columbus: Bodega in the Short North. Hip and deservedly popular, Bodega’s got a lengthy list of feel-good liquids that includes a five-member section titled “Beer Cocktails.” These beverages will arrive, of course, in still-trendy mason jars.

Bodega’s Amargo Agave ($7) is a terrific “meta-rita” that’s smoky and fruity, not sweet. It’s a taste-every-element concoction of Columbus Brewing Company’s beloved IPA, chili pepper-infused tequila, lemonade and pineapple juice. The resultant slurp terminates with a winningly astringent coda.

Similarly, each ingredient was detectable, yet the whole was greater than the sum of its parts in the fantastic Italian Farmhouse ($7). Made with Bodega’s rotating saisons (there’s always a cold one on tap), Cocchi Americano and grapefruit juice, it’s a super-dry and coherent cocktail that entertains the brain nearly as much as it does the palate. As its thirst-quenching, spicy and bitter notes fizz through beery, citrusy and alkaline territories, like me, you might be wishing for an Indian Summer.