Don't Shoot That Whisky!

Boilermakers
Boilermakers

All photos by Amanda Schuster.The Boilermaker - a whisky “shot” served with a “chaser” of beer, a.k.a. “beer and a shot” is the casual Friday of drinks. A mainstay of dive bars and neighborhood watering holes, drinking culture over the years has dictated that this combination is to be hastily swallowed as though one is running late for the last bus in town, and Boilermaker purists would even insist the name of the drink dictates the whisky is dropped into the beer before gulping it all down. Granted, not all Boilermakers were created equal. Cheap well whisky and PBR simply have a different job to do than quality whisky and a good pint, yet the majority of people see any shot of whisky next to a beer and immediately assume it’s a call to action rather than what it is, in it’s simplest form, a drink like any other. A pairing of fine whisky and a well brewed beer served together, a mainstay almost anywhere outside the U.S., are meant to be sipped and savored alternately to enjoy their nuances, not shot. After all, its name is thought to have been derived from what late 19th century industrial workers would order to wind down after a hard day at work before heading home. So wouldn’t it make sense that the whisky and beer being consumed together should be a pleasing combination?

An increasing number of bars these days are recognizing the joy of a great Boilermaker, and offering spirits and beer pairings for a fixed price as part of their regular menu. Because sometimes, especially in the heat of summer, a cocktail full of syrups and sugary liqueurs can feel too heavy and fussy, but a short pour of cold beer and a simple, neat dram is the ultimate refresher. It’s not for knocking back, but rather for kicking back, in a state of relaxation. Though traditionally, the partnership is whisky with beer, these new combinations are not always limited to whisky as the spirit of choice. However, if one likes beer and whisky, this is a classic union.

HP 18 boilermaker
HP 18 boilermaker

Stephanie Ridgeway, US National Ambassador for Highland Park whisky is a big advocate of the modern day Boilermaker. She makes the excellent point that, “The craft beer drinker appreciates a similar approach as a single malt drinker and doesn’t want to drink the same thing every day.” Both camps are open to tasting new products and mixing and matching flavor combinations. Therefore, it makes sense to try a fine single malt with a craft beer, and Ridgeway has been giving these pairings considerable thought. Here are a few she’s discovered of late:

Method: Ridgeway insists the best way to drink a good Boilermaker is Whisky Beer Whisky. First sip the whisky, then sip the beer, then taste the whisky again in order to fully experience the complimentary flavors of each.

Scotch and Craft Beer Pairings

Highland Park 12 Year and Lagunitas IPA: Performing the WBW, it’s amazing how the beer brings out the delicate honeyed notes of the whisky, which, though it inherently has a fair amount of smoke, the beer serves to dissipate most of that smokiness. The ale itself is more citrusy than hoppy, so it doesn’t overpower the scotch and make it bitter. I later tried the same scotch with Blue Point Mosaic IPA (Silver medal winner in the 2016 NY International Beer Competition), a session beer with a similarly citrusy, less malty bent. The whisky this time held more of its smoke, but its orchard fruit flavors also came into the fore.

Highland Park 18 Year and Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout: Ridgeway refers to this combo as, “Toffee and Coffee.” This HP expression is malty, rich, and a little spicy, indeed like a toffee pudding with a hint of ginger. Somehow the roastiness of the stout brings out the maritime flavors of the whisky, transforming it from a rich dessert to almost savory snack, like dark chocolate covered pretzels. When out with friends, this inspired me to experiment with Bunnahabhain 12 Year (silver medal winner in the 2015 NY International Spirits Competition) with the same beer, though this time on tap. Another sublime combination, the stout played nicely with the rich, caramel flavors of the whisky and somehow brought out some hidden marmalade flavors along with that bittersweet chocolate, like a Terry’s chocolate orange!

Dark origin boilermaker
Dark origin boilermaker

Highland Park Dark Origins and Breckenridge Vanilla Porter: Dark Origin is aged in sherry casks, and the heavy character of the porter not only drew the sherry sweetness of the whisky into the mid palate, but also the spice. After a couple of sips of the beer, the whisky began to taste like nutty ginger snap cookies, which is never a bad thing. Dark Origin also pairs nicely with a brown porter, such as Lake Placid Brewery Ubu Ale and would likely taste divine with a coffee beer.

Have you tried some other spirits and beer pairings lately? We’d love to hear about them!

Cheers!