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The bloody mary at Lowbrau in Sacramento, California, dovetails with the eatery’s initiatives to devise more alcoholic breakfast beverages.

Boozing Up Breakfast

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By Korsha Wilson December 2014 Spirits

Beer, wine, and cocktails are moving from happy hours to breakfast hours. The so-called boozy brunch has long been a weekend tradition in big cities such as New York or Washington, D.C., but the recent influx of breweries across the U.S. has yielded more eager beer drinkers nationwide, encouraging restaurant operators to serve up alcoholic beverages in the a.m. that go beyond a Bloody Mary or Mimosa.

The trend takes many faces. Shandies, a mixture between lemonade and beer, have flown under the radar for years, but are experiencing a revival. Bartenders in the know pour a Guinness and wine together to create a Black Velvet, while some mix ginger beer with berries to create a punch-style libation.

Daddy’s, a 75-seat neighborhood bar in Brooklyn, was long a “beer and shot kind of place,” says co-owner Laura Rogers. Despite the simplicity, the pub takes credit for creating one of the most clever summertime concoctions: the Margaveza. Daddy’s bartender Eric Copeland invented the drink in 2003 when, upon looking at the bar’s frozen margarita machine, decided to pair a beer and a margarita. In a pint glass, Copeland topped a bottle of Sol with 4 ounces of frozen margarita and garnished with a lime.

Though initially a summertime special on Daddy’s chalkboard menu, escalating demand from customers quickly made the drink a year-round offering. Still, however, Rogers didn’t think anybody outside of Daddy’s regulars knew about the drink.

That changed in 2008 when a reporter from GQ called fishing for details and the magazine later named the Margaveza one of America’s 20 best cocktails. Around that time, Rogers also heard of a bar in Manhattan serving the drink, a sign that the workingman’s cocktail had made mainstream inroads with New York City’s trendsetters.

These days, restaurants have escalated the classic beer cocktail by experimenting with trends like cold-brew coffee, local craft beer, and infused liquors.

Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, says it’s not surprising that brunch and alcohol sales play so nicely together. “Any time of the day is now fair game for appreciating a beer and pairing it with food,” she says. “More breweries means more discerning beer drinkers.”

Lowbrau Bierhall in Sacramento, California, already boasted a milk stout on its menu from local brewery Bike Dog. The restaurant collaborated with Insight Coffee, a local roaster and cafe, to combine beer with coffee for a brew that is both alcoholic and caffeinated. The drink was popular, says Clay Nutting, co-owner and beer program manager at Lowbrau, because it rode the craft beer wave at the right time.

“It brought together two things that people typically enjoy [separately],” he says. “We have become a bigger market that enjoys and appreciates good beer.”

Beer for Breakfast

Enjoying a beer with breakfast is not new. In Europe, sipping a brew with a plate of eggs is customary, while session beers, with their lower alcohol percentage, have long been a part of pub culture.

In the U.S., though, enjoying a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine in the morning, especially on a Sunday, is considered taboo in some circles. Blue laws in states like Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, South Carolina, and North Carolina restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday to certain hours, usually after 11 a.m. or noon.

In states where you can sell alcohol in the morning, it’s easy to see why beer with breakfast is a trend, says Herz. “You can be a bit more indulgent at brunch. Brunch means you’re hanging out with friends and loved ones. It’s a natural fit.”

But before diving into the trend, operators should consider which brews and beverages their customers will respond to.

“My advice to operators would be to integrate beer with something customers are more familiar with,” says Robert Strasser, general manager of 21st Amendment Brewery and its full-service pub in San Francisco. “Get feedback and have customers drive the direction of the drinks.”

Strasser says operations at 21st Amendment don’t vary much for brunch, but the way that the restaurant approaches the beverage menu does. The brewery came up with an entire list of beer cocktails for brunch service, but there was one problem: The beer cocktails never took off.

21st Amendment shelved the entire list. Strasser says he thinks the cocktail list wasn’t well received because it strayed too far from what the brewpub is known for: great beer. “Our customers have that purist philosophy [of not wanting to mix two genres of alcohol],” he says.

When Strasser got the itch to play around with the idea again a few months down the road, he created just one cocktail that uses beer and incorporated it in a way that he felt was more approachable to his customers. The result was a Hopped Mary, a play on the traditional Bloody Mary that blends the lightest beer on tap with hop-infused vodka.

“We started to see it as a more creative and new way to have fun with beer,” Strasser says, adding that guests love it.

Daniel P. Smith contributed to this story.