These days, you can find beer pairings for everything from cheeses to Mexican food and beyond. But what about pairing beer with, well, more beer? No, I'm not talking about flights, I'm talking about blending: one of the easiest and most versatile two-ingredient cocktails you'll ever meet.
Beer blending goes back centuries, to both Belgian lambics—historically mixtures of different-aged batches—and pubs, which used to combine beers ranging in age and quality to produce a serviceable beverage, preventing waste and improving flavor in one fell swoop. Today, though, we usually know what's coming out of the keg; when two beers are combined, it's often in the form of a black and tan (typically Guinness coupled with a pale ale or lager, like Bass) poured to order. Lately, I've even found an increasing number of restaurants and bars serving specials of their own custom blends—think hoppy IPAs with tart sours, or rich porter with a dose of fruity lambic. But there's a strong case to be made for playing around with beer blends at home. First and foremost because it's really fun. Like, this fun:
Blending also lets you adjust ratios to taste, come up with signature combinations, and familiarize yourself with a wide range of new beer styles. And since you're only drinking a portion of each bottle, it lends itself especially well to company. In fact, a beer blending party should probably be the next ice cream social.
There aren't any hard and fast rules when it comes to blending beer, but you do want to think about what flavors make sense together. There are thousands of beers out there; this is your chance to create novel, satisfying, and balanced flavors that coax out the more subtle qualities of the brews you're working with. At the end of the day, as with any cocktail, you want something that tastes great. We've put together four fall-friendly blends to help get you started.
The Smokin' Pumpkin: Pumpkin Ale and Rauchbier
Though I love autumnal flavors, I tend to find pumpkin ale (and pumpkin-flavored things in general) a bit too cloyingly sweet for my taste. But even if you're not into pumpkin beer, this is a blend worth trying: combined with an equal part of deeply smoky Rauchbier—a brew made from wood-smoked malted barley—the drink acquires a rich, savory quality. It's certainly bold and heavy, the kind of beverage I think of as a fireside cocktail; something to sip after a cold night out. But it's also reminiscent of a post-meal cheese course, the kind of drink that bridges the sweet and savory with a little bit of funk. Or, just call it what it is: pumpkin and bacon in a glass.
Chocolate Berry: Oatmeal Stout and Flanders Red
Tart and fruity Flanders red ale and dark, creamy stout combine in a drink that really does evoke the experience of a dark chocolate-covered cherry or, my personal favorite, a spoonful of raspberry-chocolate chip ice cream. When selecting a stout, you'll want something bold and rich, with strong notes of coffee and chocolate—we found that drier, lighter versions muddle and dilute the flavor of the sour instead of offering a chocolaty backbone to the drink. But with a rich, sleepy stout like the St. Ambrose Oatmeal Stout pictured above, you get a real symphony of flavor—caramel, chocolate, citrus, and berry all in one. As for ratio, the sweet spot was right around two parts Flanders red to one part stout.
Candy Apple: Brown Ale and Hard Cider
Toasty, malty, and a little nutty, a good brown ale is plenty complex in its own right. But sometimes I find myself wishing it packed just a little more punch. Enter hard cider. We had to play around with this ratio a bit, thinking at first that we'd need more cider than brown ale to strike a good balance. But it was ultimately a three-to-one ratio of brown to cider that did the trick. It's a combination that, if anything, manages to highlight the mouth-coating caramel-toffee quality of Bell's Brown, cut with a nice, sharp rinse of the cider. Do be sure to seek out a really dry, crisp cider—ask for something tart and not too funky, like Bordelet Sidre Brut or Le Père Jules Brut.
White IPA: India Pale Ale and Wheat Beer
Strong, hoppy IPAs are no stranger to bright and citrusy wheat beer, at least in concept—White IPAs are a budding but established style, and an inspiration for this blend. Equal parts of each help both beers shine, uniting the pleasantly bitter bass notes of the Ruination IPA with the reviving citrus-scented sweetness of witbier. But the real upside to blending the mixture yourself? It's a chance to mingle your favorite IPA with your wheat beer of choice—a cross-brewery blend you're not likely to find in a bottle. The results are simple, crisp, and oh-so-drinkable.