Summer is a time for refreshing, fruity cocktails—frozen, muddled, or even swizzled. Or for light brews, such as wheat beers, Pilsners and lambic. Still, we suggest a third option: beer cocktails, which mix beer with liquor. At Belga Café, a small Belgian restaurant on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row, an ample menu of beer cocktails awaits the adventurous. For owner and executive chef Bart Vandaele, mixing of beers with liquors isn’t unusual—it just requires imagination.
“One of the reasons we don’t see more beer cocktails is because of our knowledge of beers,” he says. “What we think can do with beer and how far we’re willing to go.”
Just how far does Vandaele go with beer? The whole nine yards: Belgian beers are integrated into the entire menu, whether they’re being used to marinate a dish, create an adult version of an ice-cream float for dessert, or as part of a cocktail.
“Belgian beers have more complexity than other beers,” says Vandaele. “We try to take advantage of that and push ourselves to make our cocktail menu very distinct—always thinking about what beer might add to the drink.”
Belga’s beer-cocktail menu is a combination of long-forgotten classics and brand-new drinks.
Among the classic beer cocktails on the menu is the Orangutang ($6.25), which combines Belga Pils with orange juice and a splash of grenadine. Also, the Sprite-and-Pils Panaché ($6.25), a variation of the shandy, which Vandaele points out has been a staple in France “for a long, long time.” The cocktail’s name translates to “motley.”
On the original side: the Apple Beer-tini ($12), a twist on an apple martini using marinated apples and sorbet made of apple beer, and the Belga ($11), another martini variant with a sweet taste, thanks to its peach-flavored beer and peach-cream liqueur.
For Vandaele, the challenge in coming up with the Belga was not only updating a classic martini recipe but also making this new version resemble the appearance of beer as closely as possible. “I want customers to think it’s a beer and then realize it’s a martini when they taste it,” he says. “We worked hard to get the drink to look as clear as beer. I think we succeeded—but you’ll see for yourselves in the video.”
Check out our video of Vandaele making the Belga, and let us know what you think: Does the Belga really look like beer? Also, don’t forget to get the recipe for the cocktail.
Bart Vandaele, Belga Café
1 ounce Hangar One kaffir-lime vodka
1 ounce Massenez Crème de Pêche
1 dash Rose’s sweetened lime juice
1 wedge fresh lime
Liberal pour of St. Louis Pêche beer
*The foam used to top off this cocktail is made with peach beer and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a food additive generally used to thicken sauces and foams. It’s available in health-food stores and specialty grocery stores. The foam is an optional garnish to the cocktail—so don’t worry if you don’t have xanthan gum in your kitchen.
Mix the vodka, Crème de Pêche, and sweetened lime juice in a shaker with ice. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Shake ingredients. Pour contents of shaker into a chilled martini glass. Pour peach beer into the glass to top it off. Add foam as garnish.