Bitters and Beer: A Perfect Marriage

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Making beer cocktails just got a whole lot easier. The latest trend in craft cocktail circles involves simply mixing beer and bitters. The pairing isn't as odd as it sounds, says Pam Wiznitzer, creative director at Seamstress in New York City: "All beers have an IBU scale to rate the bitterness levels, so they are accustomed to being known for their bitterness." The trick is to experiment, and find the combo that brings out the hop flavors in the beer and fruit from the liqueur — rather than just making a beer overwhelmingly bitter.  

One of the most traditional examples of pairing a bitter liqueur and beer is found in the Northeast part of France. “The locals enjoy mixing light lagers and the French bitter, Amer Picon,” says Pietro Collina, Head Bartender at The Nomad in New York. Besides providing bitterness to the beverage, Amer Picon has a distinct orange flavor that adds a pleasant spiced aroma, while the sugar content smoothes out the mouth feel. “Whenever you add any liqueur, or mixture of ingredients, to a beer, it is important to make sure it has enough body and sweetness so the flavors don’t get lost by the beers dilution and carbonation,” says Collina.

A perfect example can be found at the Dead Rabbit in New York, where you can order a "Pop-In," which consists of a shot of Cynar (that Italian artichoke liqueur that nobody knows what to do with) added to a Leipziger Gose, a light sour ale. The sourness is complimented by the sweet — and we'll admit, odd — artichoke flavor of the Cynar.

But the best way to drink bitter and beers is at home, with an appetite for experimentation. So buy a bunch of bitters, get a variety pack of craft beer, and use the rules below as your (loose) guide to the simplest cocktails you'll ever make.

7 Great Bitter-and-Beer Combinations

Wheat Beer and Pilsners with Campari or Aperol

-Campari and Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

-Aperol and Firestone Walker Pivo

Porters and Stouts with Darker, More Herbacious Amaros

-Cynar with Deschutes Black Butte Porter

-Zucca with Bell's Kalamazoo Stout work well with porters and stouts.

-Fernet Branca with Founder's Breakfast Stout

Caramel and nutty amaro with Lagers and Brown Ales

-Nonino with Sam Adams Boston Lager

-Amaro Montenegro with Big Sky Moose Drool