A classic Boilermaker used to be a not-so-elegant beer cocktail recipe where a shot of whiskey got dunked into a beer glass. Meanwhile, this old no-frills approach is outdated. Today, a Boilermaker drink comes in two separate glasses. One 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 bourbon or rye whiskey with a beer has almost evolved into a piece of science. There are techniques you can apply to get the best out of the combination. Things that are also valid when pairing food and other alcoholic drinks like wine, for example.
Let's dive into the topic and find out what the Boilermaker drink is made of, how it was invented, how you can get the best Boilermaker pairings, and how to drink a Boilermaker the right way.
What is in a Boilermaker Drink?
The Boilermaker drink recipe includes one shot of hard liquor and a pint of beer. In most cases, that means a shot of whiskey paired with a matching beer. It can be any type of whiskey like bourbon, rye, Scotch, or Irish whiskey.
However, there are similar combinations of beer and shots with a long tradition 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 example is the Dutch "Kopstootje". This combination of beer and Genever translates to "little headbutt" and most likely refers to the headaches you will feel the morning after.
History of the Boilermaker
You can find plenty of stories about how the classic cocktail came to its name, but there's a general lack of agreement on any of these tales. The Oxford English Dictionary says the term "boilermaker" was first used to refer to the craftsmen who built and maintained steam locomotives. While that makes sense, we still need a bridge to the drink's name. To not leave you in the dark, here are the two most popular versions of the drinks' creation.
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 of the same year.
When his creation passed the taste, he celebrated the feat with some of his friends by ordering whiskey 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
The Boilermaker cocktail recipe is simple, but it's all about finding the perfect match between whiskey and a specific beer chaser. Of course, that's all a matter of personal preference, but there are multiple ways to approach this topic scientifically.
After all, there are not only different whiskey styles but also several types of beer, from lager, stout, and ale, to fancy craft beer. Whatever your favorite beer and whiskey is, there are three ways 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 in 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 light and easy-to-drink beers. Paired with bourbon, the Wheat beer cuts through the rich corn sweetness in bourbon.
How to Drink a Boilermaker the Right Way
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 makes sense, considering how much effort goes into finding the perfect match. You don't want to ruin your Boilermaker in one gulp.
Making Boilermakers without Whiskey
You can make delicious Boilermakers with all kinds of hard liquor, not only whiskey. Flavorful aged spirits like Cognac or rum are excellent spirits to pair with beer, too. Here are our recommendations for creating a Boilermaker drink without whiskey:
- Cognac: The French brandy has rich, sweet, and fruity flavors that pair excellently with chocolate notes in porter beers.
- Genever: The sweet and malty taste in Genever goes extremely well with a light and crisp Pilsner beer.
- Aged Rum: The rich and sweet flavors in aged rum are delicious in combination with porter beer.
- Tequila Blanco: The famous agave spirit has a crisp and light taste that goes well with a light Mexican Lager beer like Sol or Dos Equis.
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)
For more pairing recommendations, check out our list of the best Boilermakers.