I have only recently come to love boilermakers, which is surprising given my longstanding love of both good beer and good whisky. Over the last six months or so I have had some excellent boilermaker experiences. Firstly, I visited a bar called Boilermaker House in Melbourne which lives up to its moniker by having an entire section of their menu devoted to boilermakers. Secondly, my husband’s brother gifted him a selection of boilermakers for his birthday: three miniatures of scotch and three bottles of beer, all carefully paired. Finally, when I visited Orkney the distillery manager at Highland Park let us in on her favourite boilermaker pairing involving their whisky. I tried it that same night, and it was VERY good. I’ve included it below.
So what is a “boilermaker”? When referring to drinks and not people-who-make-boilers, the term boilermaker can mean a variety of different things and so a little explanation is in order. In parts of the UK a boilermaker means a mixture of half a pint of draught and half a pint of brown ale. By contrast, a traditional American boilermaker involves shotting a dram of whisky in a single gulp and then drinking a beer. An alternative boilermaker approach is to drop a dram of whisky (with or without shot glass) into a beer, and then drinking them both together.
Now I am a big proponent of each to their own when it comes to drinks. You want to add ice to your whisky? Go right ahead. A splash of coke? Not my style, but sure. Dropping your whisky into your beer? No worries. Life is simply too short to have others dictate to you how to enjoy your drink. That said, my own favourite way to enjoy a boilermaker is to drink a dram of whisky and a glass of beer side-by-side: no shotting or mixing, just alternating between sipping the two as and when I feel like it. This seems to be the current style of boilermaker in Australia at least.
The crucial part of putting together a good boilermaker in this style is the pairing of whisky and beer. To me, a perfect pairing involves;
- A beer and a whisky you are happy to drink by themselves
- Complementary flavor profiles, like a smoky dark beer and a smoky peated whisky. For example, you wouldn’t pair a stout and a light, floral whisky.
- Trying to pair standout flavours. Spiced bacon notes in a bourbon are likely to match really well with similar notes in a dark craft beer, fruity notes in a Lowlands whisky are likely to match well with a light ale or a saison and so on.
Based on these criteria, and my own personal experience, here are a few favourites:
Ardbeg Uigeadail + Feral Smoked Porter
The smoky porter with dark chocolate notes matches well with the peat in the whisky. Both have flavours of smoked bacon.
The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask + Kaiju Crush! Tropical Pale
The pale has a bit of hoppy bitterness but mellows out with summery pineapple flavours. Their shared tropical fruit characteristics take you to an island paradise.
Highland Park 12 Year Old + Swanney Brewery Scapa Special
Light, easy to knock back, both have a lovely balanced sweetness with citrus notes.
Feel free to leave your suggested boilermaker pairings in the comments section. Happy drinking!