Every time I go into Beer Table, a little bar with high tables, a small list of well-prepared dishes, and an incredible beer list in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I have to ask about every beer on tap. The six or seven tap beers change often, and they’re always interesting.
A couple weeks ago, I chose the Emelisse smoked porter ($13 for 12oz.), a super-rich smoky beer with a bittersweet vanilla aftertaste. Unfortunately, when that keg is gone, there may not be another one.
But the good news is that the beer that replaces it will likely be just as bewitching. It certainly was with Brooklyn Brewery’s Concoction: a beer inspired by a scotch cocktail called The Penicillin.
I’d tried the cocktail before, maybe at Dram in Williamsburg, though I couldn’t recall whether I’d liked it or not. It was created relatively recently by Sam Ross, an Australian bartender who’s been at Manhattan’s famously exclusive speakeasy style bar Milk and Honey and its sister bar, Little Branch for about six years. While newish, the cocktail has a very classic feel to it—it seems like something that must have been around in some form for a century:
2oz. blended scotch
.75oz. lemon juice
.75oz. ginger-honey syrup*
.25oz. Islay scotch (something smoky, like Laphroaig)
Shake over ice the blended scotch, lemon juice, and ginger honey syrup. Strain and serve over ice (or not) in a rocks glass, add a float of Islay scotch.
*Ginger-honey syrup: The Cocktail Chronicles recommends this recipe: Bring to a boil a one-to-one ratio of water and honey, add some sliced ginger and simmer.
So imagine this cocktail in the form of a beer. Brooklyn Brewery announced it as a part of its Brewmaster’s Reserve series back in May. They wanted to call it “Penicillin,” but they couldn’t. “The government wouldn’t let us,” they said. So they named it “Brooklyn Tonic Ale,” but that apparently was a problem as well. So it’s now called “The Concoction.” It’s brewed with English peat-smoked malt, dried lemon peel, minced ginger, wildflower honey from New York, and organic lemon juice from Sicily. It’s superb. The smoke is very subtle, more like it is in a blended scotch than it is in a single malt. The lemon, ginger, and honey flavors are all strong, but well-balanced. It’s not overly sweet. It’s very refreshing. Sadly, it sounds like it will be a draft-only beer. Beer Table does sell growlers of all their tap beers, but The Concoction may already be tapped out.
That night, I made the Penicillin, twice. I was annoyed by the idea of a “float” of Islay scotch. Why not just mix it in? What difference could it possibly make? So I made my first one without the float. I used Johnnie Walker for the blended scotch and Laphroaig for the Islay scotch. The result was fantastic. I’d been simmering lemon juice with honey and ginger as a sore throat remedy for years. This took that, cooled it down, and added complex scotch flavors. How brilliant!
Next I made the cocktail again, but carefully floated the quarter-ounce of Laphroaig on top of the otherwise finished drink. To my surprise, it made a huge difference. It was considerably better tasting, much more nuanced. This time, the scotch and lemon-honey-ginger flavors weren’t merely mashed together, but somehow coexisting simultaneously. It was smokier with the float, but subtler, too.