We’ve kept an eye on the trend toward better boilermakers, the term for a spirit and a beer sipped—or, if you must, shot—alongside each other. If you’re interested in learning to tease out the nuances of pairing spirits and beer, you mostly have to rely on the tutelage of a smart bartender. But with a new collaboration between Sixpoint Brewery and Highland Park whisky, you explore the interaction of beer and single-malt Scotch under your own supervision.
Sixpoint has brewed two beers, Rune and Sköll, designed specifically to be sold and paired with Highland Park single-malt Scotch. Peated Scotch whisky derives its smoky flavor (depending on the producer, the degree of smoke varies) from peat that’s used to dry barley that eventually becomes the spirit. The first thing to know about Highland Park’s Scotch is that it’s from the Orkney islands, a rocky archipelago off the coast of Scotland. Nothing stands between Orkney and America except the Atlantic Ocean, so forceful winds that buffet the island make it difficult for nearly any trees to grow. As a result, the peat that grows there is from small shrubs rather than large trees, contributing a floral, fruity, honeylike flavor to the Scotch rather than the heavy smoke character of other Scotches.
Rune, a golden ale brewed with honey malts, oats and heather flowers, is designed to pair with Highland Park 12-year. As you sip, notice how the heather flowers synch up with the floral peat tones of the Scotch. The heather connection has to do with more than flavor, too: Ever seen photos of the Scottish countryside covered in purple flowers? That’s heather. Drinking the two side-by-side helps highlight other flavors in Scotch besides smoke, a useful exercise if you’re newer to the spirit and are looking to develop your palate to detect secondary characteristics. Sköll, the second Sixpoint beer, is to be sipped alongside Dark Origins, a Scotch aged in sherry casks that impart a spicy, dry fruit flavor. The beer is brewed with black and chocolate malts, but lacks the ashy, stoutlike character normally associated with those ingredients. Instead, the beer amplifies the Scotch’s cherry and fruitcake notes for a fruity but not overly sweet combo.
“When we were looking for brewery partners for this, we looked at a number of brewers who had a similar ethos to ourselves,” says Highland Park master whisky maker Gordon Motion. “Sixpoint is an innovative, local brewery that goes out and hand selects their raw ingredients; they don’t just buy it on the trade market. That’s very similar to ourselves with regard to the casks that we purchase. It was a principled fit.”
Next up for whiskey and beer lovers: a partnership between Boston Beer Co.’s Sam Adams brand and Berkshire Mountain Distillers, which has distilled two beers, Boston Lager and Cinder Block, into whiskeys that rested in barrels for years. That project was announced in 2012 and will finally see release this year.