It’s not every day that you meet someone with a degree in hops and brewing, or that you’d put the words “beer” and “cocktails” into the same sentence, but that’s just what we got when we met Brent Henderson, the Beer Brand Specialist at African and Eastern.
The 28-year old was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and, in his own words, says he, “Failed as a bartender, but actually discovered that I really liked beer. So a very wise woman told me to go and learn how to make beer, which was my mum!” After starting off in Cape Town, Brent moved around Europe for a while, then finished off his degree in Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
Brent explains that there’s actually several certifications and careers available for those who, like him, were seeking more of a deep dive into a hops-based profession: “There’s a difference between a beer sommelier, or someone who actually knows how to make beer. I can make my own beer from scratch, and I’m also a beer sommelier. At one stage, I was voted the youngest beer sommelier of the year, which was pretty cool,” Brent says. Now, in his role with African and Eastern, Brent looks after all of the beer brands in their portfolio, and on the day that we’d met, he had teamed up with Corona to teach a hand-picked selection of media and social influencers how to make a beer cocktail, ahead of the launch of the Casa Playa Festival at Dubai’s Nasimi Beach at Atlantis, The Palm, on September 28-29. The event, which boasts free entry, will involve activities from stand up paddle-boarding hosted by Surf House Dubai, water volleyball, and even a raft-building challenge (which is just as much fun as it sounds – there are relay races involved), and will see participants dance the day and night away to great tunes and a chance to enjoy some refreshing beverages as they watch the sun go down.
According to Brent, beer cocktails are not a new trend and have actually been around for a while, but he feels that the concept is finally coming into its own. “They just haven’t been done very well [until now] – very slapdash, and no-one’s really thought of them as a high-demand drink. Most of the time, if you’re going to have a beer you’ll have a beer, and if you’re going to have a cocktail, you’ll have a cocktail. Now, with the evolution of craft beer, beer is actually exciting – and the whole thing with beer cocktails is to try and get a balance. You don’t want to use a spirit or liqueur that’s too powerful – you just need it to enhance some of the flavour of the beer itself, or have one where the beer compliments it. Then at the end of the day, you’ve just got to remember that the beer has to take the starring role in that drink, since it is a beer cocktail after all,” Brent says.
With a Corona, particularly with the lime kick, Brent would use a gin, but with a darker beer he might opt for a rum. For something like Guinness, he likes using something a little fruitier: “I actually use a strawberry beer – I make that into a syrup, then I use that syrup almost in a modern twist on a strawberry daiquiri, then use the beer cocktail to top off the cocktail,” Brent says. Fun fact: The iconic lime in Corona was apparently never introduced as a flavour thing, but was actually used as a measure to help keep flies and other insects out of the bottle as people used to drink them in humid, tropical climates where bugs would try and get in there. “Over time, I can see bartenders pushing that further in there as they worked quickly, and there you have it,” Brent says, referring to today’s now-quintessential addition to the beach-bound favourite.
Brent says he uses anything from bottles, to cans, to drafts, to create his concoctions, but that, “At the end of the day, beer is still made at the same source. Not everyone has a draft machine at home!” When we mentioned a video we’d seen popping up on the interwebs of a Cicerone-certified beer expert on how to correctly pour a beer (so that it doesn’t hurt the drinker’s stomach), Brent said that he absolutely agrees. “It’s completely true. I stand by that. Within beer, there’s CO2. I remember when I was younger, and trying to steal a couple of beers from my parents’ fridge, I used to drink it and get a lot of foam build-up. That’s because when you pour it in your glass, you’re not releasing the actual gas. That gas needs to be released to create the foam. The foam is integral to beer. First of all, it acts like a little netting, to stop all sorts of strange things from eyelashes to dust from landing in the beer, but at the same time it also keeps that beer carbonated. Within the foam, there’s bitterness, and there’s also lots of aroma coming from the hops. That video is absolutely spot on,” Brent says, continuing: “When you’re making a beer cocktail and adding in something like crushed ice, you’re losing some of that carbonation straight away. I would never shake a beer cocktail. It would explode!”
That’s one of Brent’s top rules when it comes to beer cocktails, apparently: “Don’t shake – you’re going to create almost a little gas release, and it’s going to go everywhere.” He adds: “Don’t overpower the beer either – it is a beer cocktail, after all. And third, be inventive! Don’t do crazy things like putting coconut into a dark beer, because that’s not going to work, but creativity can go a long way. Look at different avenues. Strawberries are very nice, and blueberries and blackberries pair very nicely when muddled with a light beer. You can almost create a sweeter version of the existing flavour, since I realise not everyone likes the bitterness in many of the options out there. It’s just about finding the correct balance for [the drinker’s] palate.”
For non-hops fans, those who have trouble with them due to certain ingredients, or those who don't consume alcohol, there are options out there, with some designed specifically for diabetics, or people who can’t tolerate or are just sensitive to yeast, Brent says. “If you don’t like yeast, stay away from unpasteurized beer, for instance, since it’s got live yeast sitting inside of there. There are a couple of organic ones coming out too, but they’re very far and apart and you really have to search for them. And there are some really interesting non-alcoholic beers out there now too. One of the biggest brewers out there has [actually now even] created a beer for sportsmen, which gives them the taste of beer with 0% alcohol,” Brent adds; “In the past, we’ve always just thought of beer in a straight line, but now, with the way everything has been changing, the industry and brewers have been adapting to that as well.”
Brent’s best advice for helping someone who is trying to find their Goldilocks just-right equivalent? To look at their tea or their coffee selection. “Do they drink their coffee straight, with no milk and no sugar? They’ll want a beer that has a lot of flavour, with big bang for its buck. If they have their tea and coffee with some milk, they won’t want something that’s going to stick around in their mouth for quite a long time, but they will like slightly medium-style options, that have got flavour and a little bit more kick to them. Then you have the ones who like theirs with milk and sugar, who’ll want something a bit sweeter and lighter in flavour, like a lager. It’s not an exact science, of course, but it’s a good starting point.”