What is a Boilermaker cocktail?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 20, 2023

The Boilermaker, or Boilermaker cocktail, is a straightforward combination of a shot of Whiskey and a glass of beer. The simple and popular duo is on the menu of many bars.
Boilermaker cocktail

A classic Boilermaker used to be a not so elegant drink where a shot of Whiskey got dunked into a glass of beer. Meanwhile, this old no-frills approach is outdated. Today, a Boilermaker is served in two separate glasses. A shot glass of fine Whiskey along with a glass of ice-cold beer.

There's no general rule on what you should combine. Yet, pairing Whiskey with a beer has almost evolved into a piece of science. There are certain techniques one can apply to get the best out of the combination. Things that already were valid when pairing food and other alcoholic drinks like wine, for example.

Let's dive into the topic and find out what the Boilermaker is, how it got invented, and how you can get the best Boilermaker pairings.

What is a Boilermaker?

A Boilermaker is the combination of a glass of beer and a shot of Whiskey. The types of beer and Whiskey are chosen carefully to create the best drinking experience.

Some similar combinations of beer and shots are a traditional serving in Europe. One is the "Herrengedeck" (Engl. "Gentleman's menu"), a German creation consisting of a glass of beer and a shot of Korn.

Another popular example is the dutch "Kopstootje". This combination of beer and Genever translates to "little headbutt" and very likely refers to the headaches you will feel the morning after.

History of the Boilermaker

The origin of the Boilermaker. You can find plenty of stories about how the drink came to its name, but there's a general lack of agreement on any one of these tales. But to not leave you in the dark, here are the two most popular versions of the drinks' creation.

And my guess is that the first story could be relatively close to the truth.

During the 1800s, a boilermaker was someone who earned his money by making and maintaining steam locomotives. -A laborious and challenging way to earn a living.

After long days of work, the boilermakers relieved their pain by drinking a shot of Whiskey and a glass of beer. And because this was such a regular serving for boilermakers, it was soon named after them.

The second story also involves a steam locomotive, but in an entirely different way. Richard Trevithick created his own steam locomotive in 1801 and tested it on Christmas eve the same year.

When his creation passed the taste, he celebrated the feat with some of his friends by ordering Whiskeys and beers.

Unfortunately, he forgot to put the fire out before heading to the pub. When he returned to his locomotive, it was burned to ashes. It was all blamed on the consumption of Whiskey and beer, and so the Boilermaker was born.

Regardless of whether any of these stories are true or which one you prefer, today's Boilermaker discussion is all about finding the best pairings.

How to pair beer & Whiskey

Beer and Whiskey pairing

Boilermakers are all about finding the perfect match between Whiskey and beer. To help with this, there are techniques that are commonly applied when pairing food with alcoholic drinks.

There are three different reasons to choose a pair: complementing, contrasting, or cutting through. Here's a short guide that helps explain what these terms actually mean.


When trying to find complementing matches, choose pairs that share similar characteristics. The goal is the emphasize dominant flavors and aromas. For a Boilermaker, this could mean pairing a smoky Scotch Whisky with a pint of smoky porter.


Choosing contrasting elements brings together two very different profiles to create something unique and complex. A good example of this is mixing sweet with sour. Everyone had this combination before, either with food or a cocktail; -think of a classic Whiskey Sour.

Translated to a Boilermaker, a sweet Bourbon and a Stout beer would be a prime example of a contrasting pair.


The cutting technique allows for muting down a dominant flavor by combining it with something that cuts through it. In food pairings, the combination of blue cheese and fruit is an example of how you can cut through a very dominant flavor profile.

A combination of Bourbon and Wheat beer is a fantastic example of that. Wheat beers are mostly light and easy to drink beers. Paired with Bourbon, the Wheat beer cuts through the rich corn sweetness in Bourbon.

Drink a Boilermaker the right way

Boilermaker - Whiskey shot in glass

Carefully positioning a shot of Whiskey inside a beer glass is a thing of the past. -As is the more rustic approach of dumping your shot glass in the beer. Even drinking the Whiskey in one go and then chasing it with beer is more or less outdated.

The modern way to drink a Boilermaker, especially in high-class cocktail bars, is more of a back-and-forth approach. That only makes sense, considering how much effort goes into finding the perfect match. You don't want to ruin your Boilermaker in one gulp.

Recommended Boilermaker pairings

Last but not least, here are three pairing recommendations. And if you want some more inspiration, head over to the best Whiskey and beer combinations in a boilermaker.

  • Lagavulin 16 + Feral Smoked Porter (complement)
  • Eagle Rare 10 + Guinness (contrast)
  • Jameson + Berliner Kindle Weisse Raspberry (contrast)

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