Shot of Malort, pint of stout

Last week Atlas Brewing, in partnership with Letherbee Distillers, released a new stout called Baskerville. Brewed with milk sugar and centennial hops, it’s designed to pair with Letherbee’s Malort, which Robert Haynes developed with Letherbee head honcho Brent Engel last year to serve at the Violet Hour (Haynes, formerly beverage director at the Violet Hour, is now in the process of launching the new bar Analogue). I stopped by for the tapping on Thursday, and it looked like half the people in the bar had a pint of Baskerville and a shot of Malort—which you’re meant to sip, not shoot, the bartender told me. That had been my plan anyway, but I was happy to hear that I’d be following protocol.

I tried the Malort first, and it tasted like I remembered: intense, sweet, and bitter, with a pronounced grapefruit flavor. I waited for the lingering bitterness and alcoholic burn to leave my mouth before trying the beer: dry, roasty, chocolatey, and faintly sweet. It finished with a distinctly bitter aftertaste, almost like burned popcorn, that reminded me a little of the Malort. Though it’s an entirely different kind of bitterness, the liqueur also starts out sweet and finishes intensely bitter. The beer, as strongly flavored as it is, barely stands up to the Malort, and the first couple times I took a drink after a sip of Malort I could hardly taste it. As I got used to the flavors, though, I noticed that the beer made the Malort taste brighter and sweeter than it would otherwise—until the bitter finish, that is—and similarly, the Malort muted some of the beer’s bitterness. Neither drink is much to my taste on its own, but I did think that they improved each other.

5 Lizard with various mix-ins

Tasting the beer and liqueur together reminded me of something else I’ve been meaning to try ever since I read about the idea on Guys Drinking Beer: mixing 5 Lizard beer with gin. I’ve written about 5 Rabbit’s witbier before, noting that the lime peel it’s brewed with nearly overwhelms all other flavors—it’s also made with coriander and passion fruit, but neither of those flavors really comes through for me. It’s an odd flavor for beer, more like a lime soda with very little sweetness and a bit of bitterness. So it makes sense, at least in theory, that it would pair well with gin: sort of like a gin and tonic, but not.

The blog post I read didn’t specify which type of gin to use, but I had both Tanqueray and Plymouth on hand, so I divided a beer among three glasses and added about a third of a shot of gin to two of them (one I kept plain, for purposes of comparison). Karl at Guys Drinking Beer advised adding a shot of gin to a bottle of 5 Lizard, so it seemed like approximately the right amount.

Straight, the 5 Lizard has a tangy, sour finish—which I like, but it can become overwhelming fairly quickly. The beer with Tanqueray in it smelled distinctly like gin, and while the liquor blunted the sourness, it ended up tasting too much like the gin’s botanicals and not enough like the beer. (It also ends up tasting a little bitter at the end.) The Plymouth, though, has a less noticeable gin aroma and tastes sweeter and fuller than the unadulterated beer, without a sour or bitter finish. It tones down the lime flavor and brings out the subtler background flavors without overwhelming the beer. I still like 5 Lizard on its own, especially for summer drinking (drink up today and tomorrow, because who knows when we’ll have 80-degree weather again)—but I’ll definitely try adding gin to it again.

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.