Dive bars and specials go hand in hand. Yet, even some of the newest, most carefully conceptualized bars offer specials to appease the common drinker’s insatiable desire for the sweet release of liquor and the habitual task of sipping a beer. While most bars offer adjunct lagers and well liquors, the Boilermaker—as the combination is untraceably named—doesn’t have to be a pair of the poor and poorer. Shot and beer combinations can be complex and complementary and unexpected and delicious. Upping your expectations a bit will make the experience more enjoyable, while still appeasing to the collective drinking crowd.
The adventurous are rewarded by the unlikely. Say a liqueur and a grisette? Chartreuse and Mikkeller and Omnipollo’s Prince & Pauper work particularly well together. The two—the first herbal and grassy and the latter a bit funky and hay-like—seem destined for back-to-back drinking. The beer’s delicate hop profile (and its low ABV) make this a session-able refreshment for the pungent, extract-like aperitif.
If a shot of Chartreuse doesn’t sound appealing, even for the novelty of it, then something like gin—may we recommend Elephant Gin—and a sour beer (preferably something from Hudson Valley Brewery) do the trick. The gin’s botanical essence—of juniper, citrus, anise, licorice, coriander and in Elephant’s case, Devil’s Claw, Wormwood, ginger, Mountain Pine, Buchu and Lion’s Tail—will be balanced out by the beer’s acidity. With a raw mouthfeel and an unfamiliar depth, gin is unlike most other spirits. Therefore, a beer unlike other beers is the perfect match. Hudson Valley Brewery brews sour beers with unexpected ingredients; their most recent release was a sour IPA with coconut, almonds, pineapple and molasses.
One of the most complex styles of beer—because of its more literal than descriptive name—is the Farmhouse beer, which is characterized by its Belgian, spicy, dry and Brettanomyces-forward flavors. But the style is broad—ranging from Saison to fruit-forward. For that reason, pairing it with something that is traditionally and religiously made one way seems like an excellent idea. Pair a Farmhouse beer, in this instance Oxbow’s Momoko (a puckering sour with hints of ripe peach), with an American malt whiskey. That whiskey should be something well-rounded—not smoked or flavored—and complex. New Liberty Distillery’s PENNA Dutch Malt Whiskey is a full-bodied example with notes of coffee and dark chocolate. It’s this added level that unifies the pair perfectly.
The most common—and the most unfortunately named—Boilermaker is the Irish Car Bomb: a combination of Guinness, Bailey’s and Irish Whiskey. The result is a milky, frothy—and oft-unpleasant—concoction. But, it’s one thrown back ironically by college students at their nearest willing bar. A better combination of stout (which is what style Guinness is) and liquor requires a beer with complexity and a roasted overtone paired with a liquor that delivers a sharp, spiced bite. The former calls for something like other Other Half’s Get Busy Livin’. It’s a stout that is a full-bodied, with a high-ABV, that boasts notes of vanilla, cinnamon and raisin. Union 55’s Salted and Spiced Rum is the perfect cut to the potential sweetness of this stout. It’s infused with sea salt and botanicals—the rum then comes across the palate fuller and more flavorful; it becomes an equally potent partner for your beer.
Rarely is an IPA a qualified companion for any liquor. The style’s bitterness and palate-coating hop-profile make it nearly impossible to cut without the two becoming some melded boozy mess. But, the unruly IPA could find its match in mezcal. Take Grimm Ales’ Spiritual Consultant and precede it with Del Maguey’s Chichicapa. The beer has a heavy hop-profile, highlighted by notes of tropical fruit and pine, while the mezcal has an overt smokiness and intricate layers of citrus and mint.
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