After a long day on the job, a boilermaker can really hit the spot. You've surely enjoyed one of these classic beer-and-shot pairings at a dive bar, but lately boilermakers have been popping up on upscale cocktail menus around the country.
So, how did the boilermaker come to be named as such? The most likely explanation is that this beloved beer-and-shot combo was named after the men who built and maintained steam locomotives in the 1800s, known as "boilermakers," who enjoyed them after clocking out of work.
While this venerable beer-and-shot tradition is traditionally imbibed to catch a buzz as quickly as possible, today's bartenders are approaching them from a more refined perspective.
“A proper boilermaker should always be delicious and to the point, but that should never preclude it from being thoughtful and inventive in its pairing,” says Erick Castro, co-founder of Raised by Wolves in San Diego. “This is partly why many of the best combinations seem so unexpected on paper, but are amazing when served side by side.”
Here, bartenders from across the country serve up their absolute favorite boilermakers:
“[My go-to boilermaker is] Cold Sake—something more character-forward like Junmai or Junami Ginjo—and Asahi Japanese beer," says Kevin Beary, beverage director at Chicago's Bamboo Room and Three Dots and a Dash. “[When thinking about beer and shot pairings] they should be complimentary. One not overpowering the other."
“50/50 mezcal and green chartreuse with an ice cold Tecate does exactly what I need it to,” says Alberto Miranda, co-owner and beverage director at Nobody Told Me in New York. “Mezcal and chartreuse are one of my favorite flavor pairings, while Tecate is a crushable Mexican lager that gets the job done well.”
"When it comes to an easy beer and shot pairing, you can't beat the tradition lineup of an American Lager and a shot of Bourbon,” says Castro of Raised by Wolves.
“It is a timeless combination that never seems to go out of style. The light maltiness of the beer and the sweet, yet spicy corn of the bourbon simply always delivers.”
"I prefer a crisp light bodied beer paired with American Rye Whiskey, says Sother Teague, owner and bartender at Honeybee’s and Amor y Amargo in New York.
“At Honeybee's, I keep frosty long neck bottles of Lone Star on hand and I typically reach for Old Overholt to pair with it. I like the pairing as well as the stories behind each brand. Lone Star boasts being ‘the National beer of Texas’ and Overholt is the longest continually produced rye whiskey in the world. Great pairing.”
“Lately, I've been on a Genever 'Kopstootje' kick. I poured a shot of the Notaris Bartenders Choice Rome [100 percent malt-based] paired with the award-winning Deschutes The Abyss [American Imperial Stout],” says Zach Patterson, beverage director and owner of The Corner Door in Los Angeles.
“The combination of the malty and botanical-based Genever with the malty, chocolaty, vanilla and molasses from the Deschutes is my favorite holiday dessert.”
"When you are putting together a boilermaker combo, you always need to make sure that the flavors compliment each other, as the best match-ups are not always obvious," says Castro.
"Anytime you choose flavors that compliment each other, you can't lose, whether this is the classic pairing of blanco tequila and a Mexican-style cerveza, or something more unconventional like a porter that is loaded with notes of baking spice and a bittersweet dark amaro, such as Averna."
"There are no foolproof pairings but luckily, there are also no wrong answers," says Teague. "The ephemeral nature of the shot on the side means it can be whatever you like. Just be sure to choose a beer you enjoy as it’s the longer lasting component of the pairing."