A snakebite is an unusual cocktail with dozens of variations. Many food and drink critics consider the drink to be an acquired taste. Popular opinion suggests that it will induce drunkenness much faster than drinking beer or any of its components alone, but this is not proven. In its basic form, this cocktail is a mixture of beer and hard cider.
Several “authentic” versions of the drink have conflicting accounts as to what type of beer should be used. Some recipes call for lager, a type of beer brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast that has a long fermentation time. Others insist that dark ales, such as porter or stout, are traditional.
The cider component is an alcoholic apple or pear drink with a fruity character popular throughout Europe and the United States. In the US, the beverage is usually referred to as “hard cider,” so as not to confuse it with non-alcoholic juice drinks. Different recipes claim one or another brand as the best cider for a snakebite.
It may be difficult to order this or any beer cocktail at a traditional British or Irish pub. Many local liquor laws have separate licensing categories for beer or wine and for mixed drinks. As the drink is technically a cocktail, some pubs may not be legally permitted to make it. Of course, there may be no law saying that a customer can’t order a pint of beer and a pint of cider and mix them himself.
To make a snakebite, a bartender can fill a pint glass half-way with beer, and then add the cider by pouring it slowly over the back of a spoon to create a layered effect. Many recipes note that, with a drink this basic, layering may seem a little pompous and should be discarded. Of course, individuals can also just pour both the beer and cider in at the same time.
The variations on the drink are nearly endless, often involving added ingredients. Poison snakebites, also called shark bites, add an additional shot of alcohol. A tarantula adds whiskey and cola, while a red witch contains one shot of pernod, an anise flavored liqueur, and one shot of vodka. A champagne bite replaces the hard cider with champagne, and may also contain a splash of creme de cassis or black currant liqueur.
An Irish version, using Guinness stout and Bulmer’s or Magner's Irish cider, makes a great St. Patrick’s Day drink. People may also want to serve a similar beer cocktail, the black and tan. This drink, named after the uniforms of a military force during the Irish war of Independence, is a blend of a stout, such as Guinness, and a pale ale or pale lager. A black and tan may be a good way to introduce people to beer cocktails, as the beer and cider combination may sound a little unusual to cocktail beginners.