The origins of the word cocktail still fuel debate, but there's no mystery around the etymology of the beertail. This is, of course, a cocktail and a beer combined, creating a range of beverages that are, to proponents of the idea, greater than the sum of their parts.
"One beertail is like three separate experiences in one cocktail," says Adam Seger, a cocktail expert and bar consultant in Chicago who will present beertails at Tales of the Cocktail. "As more people are looking to drinks for an experience, to have that flavor memory, a beertail is like a triple word score."
Seger explains that a proper beertail should begin with a fundamentally sound cocktail that can stand on its own. Over this, you pour a beer chosen for its compatibility with the cocktail. This sequential layering preserves the beer's foamy head, adding texture and aroma, and gives the drinker first the taste of the beer, next a combination as the beer and cocktail mix in the middle and finally a more-or-less straight taste of the original cocktail preserved at the bottom.
One approach to beertails is to replace more conventional bubbly cocktail mixers — such as club soda or sparkling wine — with the chemically complex, flavorful properties of a craft beer.
As an example, Seger proposes the "dark and stoutly," a riff on the classic dark and stormy using El Dorado 15 Year rum, lime juice and ginger-habanero syrup while replacing the usual ginger beer with Monk's Stout, a dark, dry Belgian brew. Then there's "the birds and the brews," made with another Belgian beer, a Saison DuPont ale this time, over a cocktail of tea, honey syrup, lime juice and Hum Botanical Spirit. That last ingredient is a rum-based liqueur infused with hibiscus, ginger, cardamom and lime that Seger developed himself.
The idea is not new — beer, wine, cider, spirits and syrups have been mixed for ages — and as with many bar and culinary trends, the beertail is more of a revival and modern reinterpretation. Still, Seger says at least initially the concept can be a hard sell to cocktail enthusiasts and beer purists alike.
"I've approached so many brewers with the idea of beertails, and they're not interested at all," Seger says. "They say, 'you want to take this beer that I've worked so hard to perfect and then add all that to it? No thanks.'"
But, he's heartened by the past example of fine American bourbon and whiskey makers, who wanted to showcase the purity and craft for their product as they came into their own in the 1990s.
"They didn't want me adding berries and bitters," Seger says. "They didn't want you manipulating their product. But today they're so enthralled by cocktail culture. It took some time. But I really believe that will happen with brewers too."
The great variety of beers available on the market now creates seemingly limitless possibilities for beertails, but that's not to say all of them are good. In fact, the beertail is especially fraught with flavor peril, as Seger has discovered through some of his own experimentation.
"I've definitely made more bad beertails than any other type of cocktail. It's a danger of the trend, like bad fusion cooking in the 1990s," he says. "That's how I learned that the cocktail has to stand on its own. You have to respect the beer as the brewer intended it and then combine them for an awesome new experience."