The Irish have been sipping a shot of whiskey and a pint of beer side by side for generations — an age-old tradition they call a pint and a drop and we call boilermakers. And you don’t need the excuse of St. Patrick’s Day to enjoy the combination.
The pairing is obvious because Irish whiskey is a distilled version of beer sans hops, giving the two boozy beverages similar characteristics that make them acutely complementary. And although some American drinkers have come to think of this duo as a quick way of getting snockered, the boilermaker is finding its way onto the menus of cocktail bars, returning to the way it was meant to be enjoyed all along.
Bartenders are largely to thank for that — because we, their customers, want to drink what they’re having. These have long been their after-shift drink: a quick, strong draw that takes the edge off after a long night of making cocktails. Sometimes, boilermakers are meant to be a beer and whiskey sipped separately, other times as a shot dropped into the pint glass. Increasingly, they come as a beer served with some type of other spirit or liqueur.
“It might stretch the textbook definition of what a boilermaker is, but I consider it to be a spirit and a beer, not just whiskey and beer,” Jason Stevens, beverage director at La Corsha Hospitality and its restaurants, including Boiler Nine Bar & Grill, said.
Boiler Nine and its accompanying bars each have boilermakers on the menu. At Boiler Nine, it’s a beguiling mixture called the Divine Hammer: a half-ounce of chilled green chartruese dropped into 10 ounces of Lone Pint’s Yellow Rose IPA.
One Irish whiskey maker wants to reinvigorate the more traditional pairing. With the Dew and a Brew tour, brand ambassador Jane Maher of Tullamore Dew has been traveling across the country to various breweries — in Austin, she visited the now-open Friends & Allies Brewing — pairing their beers with her whiskey. Her message is clear: “We never shoot our whiskey in Ireland, never,” she said.
She said that shooting a triple-distilled Irish whiskey like Tullamore would take away from its full flavor. Each expression is “a well balanced whiskey that hits all areas of the palate, and there’s sweetness in the front, maltiness in the middle and a light spiciness at the back. That just gives rise to very interesting beer and whiskey pairings.”
According to Tullamore, the boilermaker (also called “a ball of malt and a pint of plain”) spread from Ireland in the 1800s, and not through the thoroughly American drink of Irish Car Bombs that we often have on St. Patrick’s Day.
“The practice became known as a boilermaker in the United States, where it was enjoyed by the working man after a hard day’s labor,” according to Tullamore Dew. “The name was coined by watching what the Irishmen who worked on the railroads were ordering: ‘I’ll have the same as the boilermaker and his mate.’ Over time, the practice gradually changed to mixing the whiskey and beer together in a single glass or drinking the whiskey as a single shot, with the beer as a chaser.”
Bartenders are now a huge influence on the boilermaker as they are often drinking wild variations on them.
Boiler Nine’s Divine Hammer is so named because it’s a subtle wallop of a drink that recognizes how well IPAs with Mosaic or Citra hops, full of tropical fruit and citrus notes, pair with the fresh herbal flavor of green chartreuse.
“It’s astonishing because you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins,” Stevens said. “You think you’re just drinking an IPA at first, but then the chartreuse notes come out, and then you’re just tasting each element back and forth. They have to be combined just right for it to work.”
He also loves sipping a sour brew, like Independence Brewing’s RedBud Berliner Weisse, with raspberry drinks like Clear Creek Raspberry Brandy or St. George Raspberry Liqueur, two other complementary flavors. This fruity combination was served frozen at Boiler Nine’s Deck Nine Observatory Bar last summer, but he couldn’t quite get it to catch on with customers.
Flavors friendly to each other aren’t the only ones that work with boilermakers.
“Lone Star and Fernet, on the other hand, are a strong contrast of flavors,” he said. “That’s a classic one with boilermakers. People also like Tecate and tequila, which is popular with my group of friends. My thing for awhile was a pony of Miller High Life with Amaro Meletti. At the end of a shift, at most of our industry bars around town, bartenders will have an inexpensive beer and some form of amaro.”
For his part, Justin Lavenue, the co-owner of the Roosevelt Room downtown, is “a huge fan of having a copita of mezcal with Modelo,” he said. “I go a little more Mexican with my boilermakers. Typically you’ve got mezcal that is a little higher proof, so you need something, I’ve found, that is a little sweeter.”
But on March 17, the cocktail bar that emphasizes the classics will pay tribute to Irish tradition by offering a pour of Jameson Caskmates paired with a rich stout. That’s a particularly apt pairing: The Irish whiskey is finished in former stout barrels, which “imparts amazing chocolate and coffee notes,” Lavenue said.
The St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Roosevelt Room starts at 5 p.m. Or, if you’d prefer to party at home, have Friends & Allies Noisy Cricket Session IPA with Tullamore Dew’s 15 Year Old Trilogy and notice how the citrus flavors in both come to life in a new way.