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Crafting a better boilermaker

The classic workingman’s shot-and-a-beer combo gets a craft makeover.

Photo by Jess Suworoff

Photo by Jess Suworoff

Mystery surrounds the origin of the term boilermaker (some assume it refers to metal workers’ drink of choice), but there’s no mistaking the drink combo when you see it: one glass of liquor, one beer. The duo is now seeing a spiffed-up resurgence as bars from coast to coast pair craft beer with small-batch spirits. “Within the last few years, there’s been a trend to find a craft presentation of low-brow drinking,” says Will Duncan, partner at Dusek’s Board & Beer in Chicago, where beer and spirits go hand in hand both in cocktails and off-menu boilermaker specials. His suggestion? Resist the urge to take the spirit as a shot. “You can drink a boiler-maker however you want, but I like to recognize the flavor interplay by going back and forth between the two drinks slowly: a sip of one and a sip of the other.”

3 DIY Combos

Will Duncan suggests pairing beers and liquors with similar flavor profiles, or with geographic ties (think German beer and German spirits). Experiment with your own favorites, but be careful not to layer heavily bitter spirits with bitter beers, or sweet spirits with sweet beers: Contrast is king.

1. Jamaican rum and hefeweizen: Tropical notes in the rum synch up with the beer’s banana and clove for a tiki twist on a boilermaker.

2. Cognac and farmhouse ale: A saison echoes a cognac’s fruit notes in this Franco-Belgian coupling.

3. Rye whiskey and dry cider: Rye’s light spice chases an effervescent, lightly sweet cider with a brush of heat.

5 To Try

Czech & Apple Staropramen Czech lager and oak-aged Clear Creek Apple Brandy at Rare Form, San Diego

Al Capone Firestone Walker §ucaba barrel-aged English barleywine and Templeton Rye at 9 Million Unmarked Bills, Seattle

Seafaring Lass North Coast Scrimshaw pilsner and Deanston Virgin Oak whiskey at Oxalis, New Orleans

Peter Uncut Firestone Walker Pivo pils and Unicum digestif at Armoury D.E., Dallas

3 Floyds Zombie Dust Pale Ale & Green Chartreuse at Lone Wolf, Chicago

Don’t drop that shot into the pint—then it’s called a depth charge or bomb.


Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.

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