Fall is officially almost over; we’re heading into winter. Hopefully you found time to drive north and peep the foliage, but as the leaves begin to drop and cold rolls in, the chill seems to demand a stiff drink.
While there are plenty of cocktails to enjoy as the weather cools, something about this time of year seems to demand the filling weight of a beer paired with the warmth of shot of ardent spirit. If any season is Boilermaker season, this would seem to be it. So what better time to return for our second installment of shot-and-a-beer pairings to peruse?
If you need a refresher on the concept, or aren’t sure what a classic Boilermaker is, check out our previous post on the subject. Last time around, we focused on some classic combos. Whiskey and lager, bitter and cider, biere amer… standards of the style. This time, we’re going to get a little more creative with our match-ups.
We hardly need to point out that the craft beer renaissance has been in full swing since the 1990s, and it’s only getting better and more diverse. Likewise, the craft spirits movement has also been gaining steam, and we like to think we’re helping to lead that charge. So what we have here are some pairings that push those envelopes a bit more; with all the new and complex spirits and beers to taste, the possibilities of combining them edge further and further towards the infinite. After browsing a few of our favorite recent combinations below, we hope you’ll be inspired to try your hand at some unique pairings, too – and let us know what you find!
Jane Danger’s “Flaming Dr Pepper”
In a riff on the classic Flaming Dr Pepper, author/bartender Jane Danger pairs her Guinness with amaretto and high-ester Jamaican overproof Rum Fire – direct from the traditional pot stills of the historic 1753 Hampden Estate in Trelawny. History ignites! Flavors ablaze!
There are a handful more classic boilermakers, some aptly named bomb shots or simply bombs, which we didn’t explore in our last post. Some involve Irish whiskey or Irish cream, some involve energy drinks, and they follow the template for boilermakers we’ve been exploring to a T. Drop a shot (or a bomb) in your beer and enjoy (quite often chugged in one prolonged “sip”).
A decidedly guilty pleasure among these is the notorious Flaming Dr Pepper. A New Orleans party classic, the Flaming Dr Pepper is said to have been created to ease the anguish of an especially disappointing defeat by the Saints on the football field. Many a hangover on Bourbon Street has begun with this fast-acting combo, and the Big Easy is still the best place to try one.
Despite the name, there is no soft drink here; but though the soda makes no appearance, enthusiasts swear the mix tastes just like Dr Pepper. Hence the name… though one wonders how many most people have had before they come convinced of this truth. The idea is to mix a shot glass full of 2/3 amaretto and topped with 1/3 overproof 151 rum; light the shot on fire; and drop it into a glass of beer as you might any other boilermaker or bomb. Some more devil-may-care establishments will use Everclear instead of 151; we cannot recommend this course of action in good conscience.
To celebrate the potent arrival of Hampden Estate’s incredible overproof, high-ester Rum Fire, author and bartending icon Jane Danger (currently presiding over the East Village’s Cienfuegos and Mother of Pearl – both temples to rum) remixes her flaming drink * with a specific pairing. Guinness Export is one of the most popular beers in the Caribbean, especially in the once-British colony of Jamaica; though it’s hard to find it here in the States, there is no shortage of classic or draught Guinness (and other more unique stouts, too). At 126-proof, Rum Fire is ideal for setting the match to (hell, Fire is in the name), and the calypso funk of its high-ester Pure Single Rum brings notes of warm tropical fruit to the rich stout beer. The addition of Caffo Amaretto, a beautiful Calabrian amaretto made entirely from historic estate-grown almonds, only heightens the decadence of this combo. The drink winds up someplace halfway between the classic Flaming Dr Pepper and a loaf of fresh banana bread.
But be careful with that blazing booze, and don’t burn down the bar when you try this one out!
Mounds of Love
El Dorado 3yr infused with toasted coconut is a match made in some tropical paradise – especially when dropped into Other Half’s remarkable coconut IPA.
In keeping with the cooling fall climate, we’ve been in the mood for pairings with stouts and porters lately. But, much like Jane’s combo above, a dark and heavy beer can do awfully well alongside tropical tones and lively fruit.
The short-lived, now-defunct Bellwether in Williamsburg featured a weekly rotating boilermaker special. A favorite from these menus was a pairing of coconut rum with a peat-smoked stout from the Hudson Valley’s own Newburgh Brewery. The notes of coconut alongside the chocolate-y depth of the beer made the finished product into something resembling a smoked Mounds bar. It works so well, we had to play with the concept and find a new version for ourselves.
Brooklyn’s own Other Half Brewery is fast becoming internationally recognized as among the world’s finest microbrewers. Their limited releases come out in exclusive cans which are best sourced directly at the brewery in small releases each weekend. When we discovered their cleverly named Coir Boiz, an Imperial IPA flavored with coconut, our minds raced back to the Mounds bar boilermaker, and inspiration struck.
Dubbing our drink Mounds of Love, we heaped the coconut on doubly for a creamy, potent boilermaker that we’ve been pounding through alongside our favorite fall curry recipes. It’s our most labor intensive boilermaker, but so worth it! Start with El Dorado 3 Year, a beautiful Demerara rum which has been aged 3 years then charcoal filtered twice, leaving notes of vanilla and (yep) coconut; infuse the rum with toasted coconut flakes for 3-4 days minimum (and strain before use). For the finished boilermaker, throw 2-3 dashes of chocolate bitters into each short of rum, before adding it to the coconut IPA; the final result is crazy delicious, refreshing and exotic, and strong as a baby elephant. As a great boilermaker probably should be.
Chairman’s Pumpkin Patch
Sometimes, just sometimes, pumpkin spice can be twice as nice. This pairing seems almost too easy. But yet – it’s so delicious we can’t resist.
Along with the turning of the leaves, of course, the luxurious decay of fall means we’ll be flooded with pumpkin spiced coffee, pumpkin pastries and most of all, pumpkin ales. Some of these are a saccharin disaster, and should be avoided as one might avoid repeat screenings of The Emoji Movie.
But nestled in among the failures there are some gems of brilliant balance – walking a tightrope of bitter ale, strong alcohol and bold spice. It follows to reason, then, that a brilliantly balanced spiced rum could take that pleasure soaring to new heights.
Relatively new to our portfolio, Chairman’s Spiced Rum has secretly been one of our favorite spiced rums for years. Gentle but confident spices roll generously on the palate, with a bright pop at the finish that defies expectations; it’s a lot of fun. Pick out the right pumpkin ale, and you have a shot-and-beer combo that explodes with fall flavor without slipping into unwelcome excess. Since the Spiced Rum is lightly sweetened, we recommend a brew on the dry side, preferably with a bit higher alcohol: our favorite this year is Southern Tier’s Pumking Imperial Ale. At a solid 8.6% this is another high-proof boiler-bomb, so we don’t recommend more than one. Or maybe two.
Once dubbed the Milano-Torino to highlight its combination of regional aperitivi (red bitter from Milano and vermouth from Torino), this classic Italian cocktail was renamed the Americano for the tourists who clamored for it on vacations to the old world. Classically, the drink calls for the two Italian beverages to be stretched with a blast of soda water; but if you combine the recipe with the American boilermaker tradition, and top it off with beer instead – woah. Talk about Italian-American.
We suggest substituting your soda water with a light and simple Italian lager like Birra Moretti, or a clean but nuanced German pilsner like this one from the world’s oldest organic brewery, Pinkus. We built ours in a Collins glass without ice, using ¾ oz of vermouth and bitter as a baseline (so about 1½ oz total, or one shot’s worth of booze). Pouring the beer slowly in on top gives a solid head of pink foam to the drink, an attractive and frothy delight to sip your way through.
We have a number of beautiful Italian aperitivi to choose from these days, but for an appetizer like this we recommend keeping the bitter tones strong. Antica Torino Vermouth di Torino has a strong wormwood backbone that lends real character to any cocktail, and Caffo’s Red Bitter is a Calabrian workhorse in the all-natural, classic Milano bitter tradition that far outshines many competitors using synthetic ingredients for beyond twice the price. You need look no further. Consider this boilermaker your “beer negroni.” Orange garnish is purely optional; this thing looks and tastes pretty enough on its own.
We love sour beers; lambic ales, Flemish reds, gose, give it all to us. And sour beers, like sour cocktails, are particularly good vehicles for most pairings with strong liquor. Consider the salt rimmed margarita – an agave sour, by any other name – and now picture a boilermaker combing tequila or mezcal with a tart sour beer, particularly one with a faint note of salt or saline. Yeah, that’s guaranteed delicious.
For a complex but balanced and approachable pairing, we prefer a gentle mezcal, showing both smoke and fruit against the sour-and-savory boilermaker combo. Try the classic Agave de Cortes Joven and you’ll see just what we mean.
The right sour beer or salty gose also works wonder with our generously complex, dry herbal spirit, Sweetdram Escubac. Bolstered by notes of citrus, cardamom and caraway, this sour combo is built to be enjoyed alongside spicy cuisine – you can have a mind-blowing, gut-busting evening pairing these with a curry-heavy Indian feast or a Northern Thai banquet. Filling but refreshing, this boozy sour boilermaker seems to slice right through everything we eat, making more and more room to keep on devouring more. It’s pretty hard to beat that kind of fun.
Maybe if we have some agave and some Escubac together…
We should probably say “don’t try this at home” – except, like, you really should. Also, if you see a sour beer from the legendary gypsy brewers at Grimm (or really, if you see any beer from them in general), you should try it. Their Kinetic Cloud Dry Hopped Sour Ale is one of the finest examples of the category we’ve tried, incredible on its own but Hell on wheels as a boilermaker. Go find some.
Hot peppers and mesquite and brown ale = chipotle umami bomb!
Beer and hot peppers are one of the oldest pairings in the book. At this point, it’s no secret that the best solution for a mouthful of spice is to wash the fire away with some suds. In our last installment, we talked up some jalapeño infused agave (a pairing made in Heaven if there ever was one); but those are not the only pepper styles worth exploring.
Habanero peppers can pack an earthier kick of heat, while serrano build the burn with deeper layers of vegetal green pepper notes – there are literally hundreds of pepper varieties, and they’ll all give you something unique to consider when infusing.
A Southwestern American take on the classic single malt, the family at Tucson’s Hamilton Distillers stop their barley’s germination not with European peat smoke, but with indigenous mesquite, giving their Del Bac Single Malt Whiskey a muscular BBQ pungency that transforms any cocktail into a delicious umami bomb. Try a Bloody Mary with their unaged smoked whiskey and you’ll see just what we mean.
That same smoke-laden savory strength also makes for a delicious boilermaker, and brings us back to the original whiskey-beer combination. But everyone we know from Arizona has a soft spot in their hearts for hot peppers, and we’re in full agreement; infusing Del Bac’s mesquite smoked unaged single malt with hot jalapeño, serrano or habanero peppers leaves us with a clear spirit that tastes remarkably like chipotle; drop a shot of that in a solid brown ale, like this one from Cigar City Brewery, and you’ll taste a rich, earthy pint of spice and smoke, redolent of the deep red hues of the Arizona – a trip into the cowboy canyons of the American Southwest, a glass of booze that tastes like a ride off into a sunset of flavor. Too much? Just try it.
To reiterate from our previous post, our favorite method for making infusing hot peppers is to chop up 5 or 6 peppers (depending on size) into small, 1/2” wheels and steep them in spirits for about 6 hours. Start tasting your infusion around 4 hours in, just to be sure you pull the peppers out when the spice level is where you want it. If you pull early, you’ll wind up with a gentler, sweet pepper accent with a lingering heat behind it. If you pull late, you’ll wind up with a flaming aggressor who’s come to swallow your soul from the inside out. Up to you, pick your poison.
Report back and let us know how your journey was…