- Courtesy Cerberus Brewing
Frozen cocktails have long been a thing, and more often we’re seeing icy wine concoctions too, like Frosé. Which naturally — because we humans are inherently curious and perpetually creative creatures — led breweries to start experimenting with turning their beers into a super-summer-friendly treat. Enter beer slushies, made in the type of slushy machines that are ubiquitous in American gas stations.
Savvy breweries across the U.S. (and some internationally) are starting to pick up the trend, which was happening in 2019 in Denver at spots like Station 26, and notably at Greeley’s respected Wiley Roots Brewing Company.
Wiley Roots co-founder Kyle Carbaugh became a close industry friend of Cerberus Brewing Co.’s head brewer/co-owner Joshua Adamski a couple of summers ago — they’ve since been memorialized together on another collaboration this year called Uncomfy Lobster, a guava, pineapple and coconut sour whose label depicted a bearded crustacean meant to pay homage to both red-headed and -bearded brewers, who aren’t shy about advertising themselves as “gingers.”
Adamski leaned on Carbaugh as a slushie mentor, but that was after Cerberus’ social media and event coordinator Kaitlyn Bowers and brand ambassador Carrie Simison (the Indy’s former publisher) “wore me down” to introduce them based on their tastings from other breweries at summer festivals last year.
“It’s hard to think of different concoctions,” says Adamski. “But people are really liking them, which makes it fun for me.”
Bear in mind that true brewers are purists at heart, and wouldn’t be caught dead around excessive adjuncts and flavorings, taking the short road (read: lazy and lame) to a fine field beer, for example, versus coaxing tastes from real ingredients. “Our series is called Li’l White Lies,” he says, “because we are using things many brewers in the world wouldn’t add to a beer — ever.”
But slushies exist in their own realm of play, and actually require copious amounts of sugar in particular to turn out texturally competent as well as flavor balanced. Carbaugh first consulted for a special one-off strawberry-kiwi kettle sour slushie beer called Hell Froze Over for Cerberus’ anniversary this past September.
- Courtesy Cerberus Brewing
Guests went bananas for it, and Adamski put the base beer on tap as well so folks who didn’t want a slushy (read: boring people) could still relish in the fruit combo. He continues to do this format with every-third-week releases now.
As he explains it, Carbaugh advised him to make a basic kettle sour. So Adamski reached for Lactobacillus plantarum, a strain regarded for its speedy souring ability, which happens as quickly as overnight when pitched into the wort. The goal is to drop the pH, “not like a Belgian sour that spends years in a barrel,” he explains, “this is the easy way to get tartness.”
The grain bill can otherwise be flexible, he says, noting for his kettle sours he uses pilsner malt, flaked oats and added lactose (the first sugary component). The result on its own tastes rather bland, he says, with low IBUs (bitterness), which presents the perfect canvas for adding fruits and flavorings toward a desired outcome.
Let’s just address the question all the hop-heads are dying to ask: What about making IPA slushies?
Don’t, says Adamski. Reason being the excessive bitterness gets further amplified by the slushie-making process. And the reason sugars must be added, he says, is without them the liquid will freeze and turn into a block in the slushie machine. Plus, “it mellows the beer out and makes it easier on the palate,” he says, again noting how components become amplified — so even modest bitterness must be balanced out.
Another rule: No carbonation — it’s gotta go in flat. In fact, the beer set aside for slushies doesn’t even get fermented till its normal finish, as the residual sugars the yeast haven’t yet eaten help toward the goal of more sweetness. Yet another rule: “You don’t want it to be too dry.” A Kölsch, for example, gets down to around 1.5 degrees plato (a measurement of the concentration of extract, mainly sugars, as a percent by weight), while a kettle sour comes in around 5 to 7 percent.
“I call it diabetes in a glass,” jokes Adamski. “Some people get a headache after one, or two. You’re basically drinking your total day’s worth of sugar.” (Probably much more according to World Health Organization guidelines which advise around 25 grams daily, max. But hey, remember this is a summer treat! Everything in moderation, slushie lovers.)
To be clear, that headache’s likely not from the ABV alone, as Cerberus’ slushies tend to weigh in around 6 percent on average, just above sessionable territory and far below imperial. But still, says Adamski, “they sneak up on you” because they’re so sweet and smooth. As with the bittering that gets amplified, higher alcohol too can taste hot on the palate, requiring even more sugar to balance.
During the weekdays, Cerberus releases spirit-based slushies like a hard lemonade, which do tend to come in at closer to 13 percent ABV. But come Friday, they put on the beer slushies, and typically they sell out by Saturday night or Sunday morning. Even during restricted COVID-19 hours (prior to the recent allowance of 50-percent-capacity on-site consumption) that equated to moving 700 16-ounce plastic cups (averaging $7.50 or $8) of slushies in around 24 hours. “It’s crazy, it’s taking off,” he says.
Flavors have included blue raspberry lemonade and boysenberry pie. When I stopped in last week, I sampled the base beer for a recent orange creamsicle slushie, the Wheezing the Juice Mandarin orange kettle sour with vanilla and lactose.
- Courtesy Cerberus Brewing
An initial test batch for employees only was “the most expensive beer we ever made,” says Adamski, listing several inputs for a cherry cheesecake slushy that “smelled and tasted just like cheesecake.” Soon to come: a strawberry shortcake slushie that’ll require the addition of cake batter, vanilla and “a lot of fruit.”
“I wouldn’t call the slushies a beer or ever enter them into a contest or anything,” says Adamski, “they’re just a goofy thing to do.”
But still, to do them right requires becoming a good slushie mixologist beyond a competent brewer. “The base beer’s still the most important thing,” he says. “Then it’s hitting your sugar levels to freeze properly, and hitting your flavors.”