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How the Boilermaker transcended the dive bar

The Boilermaker has evolved beyond its typical confines to become a drink that encompasses craft lagers, ales and stouts and all types of refined spirits and liqueurs.

Existing in dive bars as a shot and a beer for generations, a Boilermaker used to be the all-American male choice of beverage. Today it’s evolved beyond its typical confines to become a drink that encompasses craft lagers, ales and stouts and all types of refined spirits and liqueurs. With each sip (beer in one hand, whiskey in the other) the flavour combinations get better and better. A Boilermaker with the added finesse of a bartender’s touch.

And finally in London we’ve caught up with the States in understanding that this serve no longer needs to be confined to the dive bar. In fact as the New York Times put it, a shot and a beer has entered “today’s hushed temples of the craft cocktail, where complexity and creativity are often prized over a belt and a brew.” 

Quite when the term Boilermaker became attached to this drinking ritual of sipping whiskey alongside a cold beer is unclear but its long been a generic term for industrial metalworkers, who were quite possibly in need of a Boilermaker after a hard day’s work.

As the Boilermaker has grown up so have its flavours and varieties, thanks in part to the craft beer movement and finesse in spirit making. From the many possibilities just within the whisky world – Scotch, Irish whiskey, Bourbon, Japanese whisky, rye whiskey, grain whiskey, peated whisky and moonshine – to pairing beer with bracing amaros, liqueurs, gin, tequila and rum, the humble Boilermaker has truly outgrown its origins.

So do whisky and beer pair well? They are in fact natural bedfellows – after all before hops are added beer and a whisky’s mash are pretty much indistinguishable. Once the aged whisky has picked up sweetness from its wooden barrels it cuts through the bitter hops and marries the two flavours together. That sweet and bitter combination is repeated with all spirit and beer pairings, with the beer rounding out the booziness of neat spirits.

Of course just because the Boilermaker has left the dive bar, it doesn’t mean it’s now a fancy cocktail served in a wellington boot with more garnish than liquid – far from it. This delicious serve is still every inch a quick and simple drink.

Or as Esquire puts it “Sometimes you need a drink. Need a drink. The last thing you want to do is mess around with cocktail shakers and vegetable peelers and fancy little glasses on delicate stems, let alone herb-infused thises and hand-squeezed thats. You have entered the realm of the Boilermaker.”

This year at The Beer Edit, the highlight event of London Beer Week, you’ve got the chance to try some truly unique and tasty combinations of Boilermaker. At the craft beer bar in the Beer Edit you can order your choice of beer (and even mead, cider, and ginger brew) and spirit and sample this age old serve. We'll be pouring Jameson Caskmates, Bols Genever, Auchentoshan, Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Old Forester and Glenfiddich.

And a word of advice, some folks like to drop the whiskey in the beer, but we’d recommend against this, if only for reasons of taste. Beer in one glass, whiskey in another, sip one then the other. Repeat as necessary.