A gruff shout from across the bar, dingy lighting and the slightly off-putting smell of sweat and dankness. That was the natural habitat of the Boilermaker. Existing in dive bars as a shot and a beer for generations, it’s the all-American male choice of beverage.
Not the kind of drink you might expect to find in a French-styled dedicated cocktail bar in East London. And yet the simple serve has managed to land itself on Joyeux Bordel’s menu – a space where the bartenders know their Italian rhubarb liqueur to their Cynar.
Of course this isn’t the Boilermaker of old, which was rough bourbon and generic beer. Instead the team at Joyeux Bordel have created a rolling menu of craft beer and paired liqueurs and spirits. 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 we’ve caught up with the States in understanding that this serve no longer needs to be confined to the dive bar. A year and a half ago with New York Times ran an entire piece on a shot and a beer entering “today’s hushed temples of the craft cocktail, where complexity and creativity are often prized over a belt and a brew.” Punch was quick to follow with its own piece on the trend.
Xavier Padovani, owner of Joyeux Bordel, has cottoned on to what Morgan Schick, creative director of Bon Vivants, told the New York Times in 2014 – the Boilermaker is a great way for bartenders to showcase spirits and beers they enjoy and want to promote.
Xavier knew his new bar (the group also owns ECC in Chinatown and Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Covent Garden) needed to be a bit more ‘East London’ so he went on his own craft pilgrimage and visited some of London’s most creative breweries including Partizan down in Bermondsey, Beavertown in Tottenham and Crate in Hackney Wick.
“To be honest I’d heard so much about these places I was sort of expecting loads of hipsters and ok beer but I was seriously impressed with the taste,” says Xavier.
With the breweries on board it was Joyeux Bordel’s bartenders’ turn to be creative. They were searching for spirits and brands which weren’t going to be too obvious and yet weren’t too expensive. After a period of trial and error the current menu was born.
Tonight you can walk in an order a Beavertown Black Betty Black IPA served with Italian Amaro Cynar, Partizan Don Biere de Garde served with Italian rhubarb liqueur Nardini Rabarbaro, Crate Brewery Lager served with Rittenhouse Straight Rye, Gipsy Hill Hepcat session IPA served with Monkey Shoulder, Beavertown Gammaray American Pale Ale served with a 1982 Jack Daniels or Red Stripe Jamaican Beer served with Appleton Estate VX Rum.
“This is our first step but we wanted to do it in the ECC style, from keeping our beer glasses in the freezer to offering a vintage spirit. We want to nail it on all levels,” says Xavier.
As the project moves on the local brewers will be making the journey to bar to taste the pairings and potentially help curate the menus.
The wonderful brew-shot combinations bring accessibility to cocktail bars, and demonstrate that delicious flavour pairings aren’t always limited to mixed drinks. Perhaps the walls are finally crumbling between the worlds of spirit and beer – something we’re more than happy to see.
Interested in Boilermakers? The serve is a huge part of London Beer Week where select bars will be serving creative pairings for £5. Visit the site for more info.