The 'Rena Neat and the Micheltorena. Photo by Erin Feinblatt

A Beer and a Watermelon Margarita Walk into a Bar…

Drinkable Landscape

Summer does all kinds of strange things to me, like make me appreciate pilsners and not just crave hop-bomb IPAs as I do most of the less-warm year. Their mild maltiness and lower alcohol just seem a better accompaniment to a lazy afternoon. 

Why am I discussing beer in a cocktail column, you may ask? Well, for this season I thought it might be fun to come up with a beer cocktail, one of those concoctions so old it’s been around long enough to become cool and trendy again (just Google and you’ll see). Realizing not everyone wants beer, even as part of a delicious drink, this issue’s recipe can be made with or without the pilsner. When in doubt, try both.

In essence what you will do is make the cocktail and either pour it into an up glass and say cheers or pour it into a half pint glass and add beer. The base cocktail itself is the paragon of summer with some items you might even be able to grow in your own yard: watermelon, cilantro, lemon and lemongrass.

What you will mix is one of the more distinguished Margarita variations you will ever have. Tequila is the base liquor, so use something that’s 100% agave, as mixtos include sugar and are less tasty. Something midrange works, as you won’t be just sipping it (heck, you’re mixing it with beer!), and TJ’s and Costco are your friends. Cazadores Reposado is a fine house tequila. But instead of triple sec or even Cointreau, you will use St-Germain, the elderflower liqueur. This adds all sorts of floral notes and not just citrus ones. Then you do add some lemon juice for a bit of acid, too.

The driving flavor, though, will come from the watermelon—but what fruit tastes more of summer? Note that you will muddle and not machine-process the melon. This saves you from seeding the watermelon—you can strain them out of a muddled mix, but you can’t once they’ve been pulverized—and it helps integrate other parts of the drink, namely the oddballs, the lemongrass and cilantro. They help add yet more dimensions, taking your tequila on an exotic tour of Thailand. Trust me, they will like the trip and you will too.

As for the beer, not just any pilsner will do. The drink is very different depending on how hoppy that pilsner is, so here’s your chance to learn the value of International Bittering Units (IBUs). The more hops, the more IBUs, the more you’ll pucker. West Coast IPAs are often around 100 IBUs. Pilsners, more about malt, don’t get half that high. The best local choice for the cocktail is Figueroa Mountain Paradise Road Pilsner, only 20 IBUs but lilting and lovely. By comparison Firestone Pivo Hoppy Pils—trust that name—is 40 IBUs, which makes it fine to drink if you want a stronger pilsner but a bit brutish for this particular cocktail.

The drink’s name is a tip of the hat to the classic michelada, of course, plus a fine local reference to boot.

The Micheltorena
(or The ’Rena Neat)

Makes 2 cocktails

  • 1 generous 1-inch length lemongrass stalk
  • 6 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 ounce lemon juice (preferably Meyer lemon)
  • 2 heaping cups watermelon, cut in approximately 1-inch cubes
  • 2 ounces 100% agave tequila
  • 1 ounce St–Germain Elderberry Liqueur
  • 1 bottle of Figueroa Mountain Paradise Road Pilsner (for The Micheltorena only)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 artfully cut wedges of watermelon (for garnishing the glasses)

Cut the lemongrass down its length and then into thirds so you get 6 pieces. Put those in a cocktail shaker along with the cilantro, the lemon juice, and the watermelon cubes. The cubes do not need to be exactly uniform in size, but you want to keep them somewhat smallish so you can muddle them more easily and consistently. Proceed to muddle, and realize this might take some time. Yes, you could put the watermelon in the blender, but then you’d have to clean your blender and pick out all the seeds before blending, too. Muddling saves you all that. Just keep at it, acting like you have to “pop” each chunk. It should be very much a liquid when you’re done. Add the tequila and St-Germain. Add ice and shake well—and again, do this a bit longer than you usually might to integrate all that content—until well chilled.

At this point you can choose which of 2 cocktails to make:

If you want something up and elegant, strain (you must strain to get all the cilantro, lemongrass and watermelon pulp and seed out) into 2 chilled up glasses, give each the smallest pinch of sea salt (it really helps the flavors sing, so don’t skip this step) and stick a melon edge on each rim. That’s The ’Rena Neat.

If you want a longer-lasting drink for a hot summer afternoon, strain an equal amount into 2 half-pint beer glasses. Gently pour the pilsner to fill; it’s very easy to have the drink foam up, so go slowly. (Note: You won’t use a whole bottle for 2 cocktails, so be prepared to make more or drink some beer later.) Give the mildest of stirs. Top each with the smallest pinch of salt, and stick a melon edge on each rim. That’s The Micheltorena.


George Yatchisin happily eats, drinks and writes in Santa Barbara. He blogs at GeorgeEats.com
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