Boilermakers: the perfect pairing

Beer and whisk(e)y are surely two of life’s greatest pleasures – so why not enjoy them together? You’ve no doubt come across the boilermaker, the ‘shot and beer’, or even the ‘hauf ‘n hauf’ enjoyed in Scotland. But what’s the history of this truly excellent pairing?

Like many drinking traditions, the history of the boilermaker is somewhat murky. Though enjoying a shot of beer and whisk(e)y concurrently isn’t specific to any one place, the name itself is said to have come from blue-collar labourers – including  actual boilermakers – who downed them in great quantities in working towns around the United States.

What’s certain is that the tradition of drinking Irish whiskey (in particular) alongside a beer goes back generations, with punters in Irish bars and pubs enjoying the sweetness of a ‘ball of malt’ complemented by the bitterness of a ‘pint of plain’ for decades.

And it’s not just about knocking back something stronger and chasing it with something crisp and refreshing – similar to food matching, there’s also a ‘three C’s’ rule to boilermakers that you can fall back on: either complement, counter, or cut.

Complementing would see a bold, fruity, hop-forward IPA paired with a whisky that showcases similar flavours – such as tropical fruits, stone fruits or citrus. Countering would see that same IPA paired with a savoury, maritime whisky, with a good briny character; a coastal Scotch would work perfectly. Finally, cutting would involve taking a whisky with a high ABV or solid peat quality, like an Islay Scotch, to cut through all of the fruit flavours inherent in an IPA.

One way to take advantage of this perfect pairing is by offering guests at your bar boilermaker-matching suggestions, whether that’s by simply suggesting a whiskey and beer combination that you think would work well, or by putting together an actual boilermaker section of your cocktail menu.

But remember, rules are made to be broken. The three C’s are just a guide, and the main thing is to have fun with it.

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