Drinkable art

Photo illustration by Mark Stivers

A few decades ago, when Sam’s Hof Brau on 17th and J Streets was thriving, several friends and I frequented the old-school establishment following evening work shifts. A towering turkey or pastrami sandwich and a few pitchers of cold lager were standing orders.

But it was also common to hear older men at the bar ordering tomato beers. For a young beer drinker, it seemed like heresy. Who’d ruin a perfectly good crisp beer in a frosty mug by adding tomato juice? And who knew a host of beer-infused cocktails would become a thing?

Purists may still gawk at the concoctions. But with age comes maturity and a more developed palate—or a least an open mind. Beer mixed with nearly anything these days is a cocktail. Many varieties of the traditional Michelada are popular around Sacramento. The beer cocktail list also includes a Coronarita, Caip-beer-inha, Mexican Bullfrog, Snakebite and Shandy.

Mary Valasquez of El Salvador and Angela Greer of Mexico usually work the register and tables at Midtown Taqueria on 37th and J streets. They move quickly in a small space behind the counter with Salim Doumit, who runs the place.

Sometimes Valasquez or Greer step aside to create a Michelada. It’s a small meal of drinkable art. Offered in a heavy goblet is a mixture of an on-tap or bottled beer of choice, mixed with Clamato and lime juices. Tajin chili seasoning surrounds the brim, with two slices of lime and two shrimp as garnishes. If you’re lucky (I was) a third shrimp awaits at the bottom of the glass.

Oscar Escobar, bar manager at Cantina Alley (2320 Jazz Alley), has a different take. Escobar is known for his drinks served in fruit, but his Michelada is in demand.

“The Michelada is a concoction of clam juice, tomato juice and about seven different spices (the mixture is a secret),” Escobar said. “Typically, we use a Mexican beer. You don’t want to use a stout or anything too hoppy. … With the Michelada, we’ve added pork rinds as a garnish. That gives it another level a flavor.”

Escobar isn’t a fan of the newfangled Coronarita, sometimes called a Mexican Bullfrog. But he’ll serve one if asked. It’s a frozen margarita with a bottle of beer presented upside down in the glass. Sip the margarita with a straw and the beer steadily fills the glass while diluting the margarita.

And consider some of the other options: A Shandy is a beer-lemonade mix. A Snakebite is a mixture of lager and cider or a dark beer combined with hard cider. A Caipirinha is beer, Cachaca (fermented sugarcane), sugar and lime.

Bill Farrell has owned SoCal’s Tavern (5200 Folsom Boulevard) since 1995. A thirsty patron can order a beer cocktail by any name. But what they’ll get is the only variety the Farrell family and its employees serve—a Bloody Mary beer. It’s the famous drink, with beer replacing the vodka. Horseradish and Worcestershire sauce are added.

Forget the shrimp, lime slices or pork rinds. The Bloody Mary beer has one primary purpose. It’s a good cure for a hangover.