Monday, March 23, 2020


Two Mondays ago, I hosted a post-Speed Rack charity event at Silvertown in downtown Boston. The idea started when a few of my Angel's Envy crew were in town during the first week of February to observe me giving my first staff trainings and running my first events. Before one of my staff trainings, we were at Silvertone enjoying a round of Angel's Envy Rye while bouncing ideas off of each other for events. When the topic of Speed Rack came up, I mentioned that this spot is where I frequently found myself after working the event as a volunteer every year. One person proposed a fancy cocktail special idea, and I rebutted that this is Silvertone -- we need to drink like they drink here especially when it is busy: a beer and a shot. The idea came to be, and our afterparty raised money per boilermaker drank and raffle ticket sold; in the end, we donated over $200 to the Ellie Fund. After the long day of volunteering, hosting, and imbibing, it was almost 3 am when I got home and I was in no mood to make a cocktail for the blog, so I figured that I would later mull over the idea the boilermaker for a post.
A boilermaker is essentially a beer and a shot of spirit which is often whiskey. However, the "beer" could be a cider or even a wine, and the spirit can be anything from rum to Calvados. In traditional form, each is sipped as desired with the malt's (apple's or grape's) sweetness helping to cut the alcohol's burn. In college, we assumed that the shot was dropped into the glass, but to me, that is more of a Depth Charge than a boilermaker. The origins of the name related to the early-mid 19th century when the workmen who built and maintained boilers for ships, trains, and industry would order these side-by-side combos after a long day of labor. Wondrich even suggests that the idea  but not the name itself dates back to the 17th century in Europe. Noah Rothman in the DailyBeast pointed out the connection of whiskey starting as unhopped beer before distillation, and Wondrich noted that whisk(e)y cultures of Scotland and Ireland frequently drank them together as early as 1605. America might have lagged behind since a lot of our drinking culture was inherited from the British who were not big whiskey drinkers. In the modern day, like the boiler men, bartenders have latched on to the order; after a long shift, they might not have a lot of time until last call to get things done, and ordering this double is a rather non-fussy ordeal for the staff manning that industry bar.

Given that the craft cocktail bar movement has encouraged figuring out the best ingredients for a drink down to Audrey Saunders testing out every gin on her shelves to find the optimal recipe, the boilermaker has seen new light in the last decade. Some bars like the Automatic in Cambridge have boilermaker sections on the menu to guide their guests from basic to higher end and synergistic pairings at a wide range of price points. Others have taken it up another notch by making it into a competition; Erick Castro spoke of the "Big Baller, Shot Caller" event where bartenders provided judges with their favorite twosomes. Others still keep it on the humbler side. In my first trip to Louisville in 2016, I decided to only drink bonded Bourbons and frequently paired them with a local beer (unless I was in a cocktail bar or brewery taproom of course). My thought was that I would rather spent $13-15 on a whiskey and craft beer than spend that sum on a single whiskey order; since many bonded Bourbons and regional craft beers there do not leave Kentucky, it doubled my exposure to the state's nectars. Moreover, I have found myself ordering boilermakers on random Friday nights off when I decided to go to a friend's busy bar for it did not take much of their time to get both pours in front of me, and I have found it a great choice on slower nights at random bars not known for their cocktails.

The Angel's Envy website has a section on Angels and Ales, their name for the pairing. In one post on their blog, they discussed their favorite pairings with their Bourbon finished in port casks. For pilsners and lagers, the clean, crisp aspect brings out vanilla sweetness, port notes, and a caramel finish. For IPAs, there is a lot more variety in the results given the citrus, grassy, and other aspects of the hops; moreover, I have found that certain IPAs like Bell's Two Hearted have a great amber malt backbone that synergizes with the charred oak aging of said whiskey. And finally, they mention porters with their chocolate and coffee notes that bring out honey sweetness and a warm finish from the Bourbon. Those three are only the beginning, for I have found great results in Belgian-style beers like Fat Tire, and classic Americana ones like Anchor Steam due to that amber malt character I mentioned with the Bell's.
David Wondrich has spoken about the problem with beer sizes to match a two ounce or so pour of spirit. He finds that a pint is too large, and many bars will not veer from charging the full price even if they give him half. He also knows himself well enough that if he is given a full pint, he will drink it. Some bars like Lily P's pictured above do half pours for the same volumetric pricing as the full pour; I find it unfortunate when bars gouge the half pour pricing to almost discourage it. Almost every place that I have worked did not have half-sized pricing, but given that most POS systems have an "open beer" button, I could get it done with some first or second grade math. Wondrich is also a big proponent of the beer being a draft beer for a boilermaker; however, there are a few beers like Miller High Life that come in 7 ounce pony bottles that are the perfect sized accompaniment to a whiskey dram. Otherwise, the only way to best utilize a twelve or sixteen ounce bottle or can is to ask for two glasses to share with a friend. And at home, I lack a kegerator, so all my pairings are from packaged goods.

As I mentioned above, beer and whiskey are not the only options. My favorite boilermaker of 2017 was experienced at the end of Tales of the Cocktail at a small gathering hosted by Haus Alpenz's Jake Parrott. There, I was sipping on a 2006 I Clivi wine called Galea where its citrus, almond, and mineral notes worked rather stunning with a copita of Del Maguey Tobala that Misty Kalkofen brought to the soirée and poured me half way through my glass. I wrote, "It was magical, and I'm not even a big wine drinker." Given that a bar tab for that duo would be in the range of $40, it is not an every day occurrence to pamper myself like that. Magic can be found at half that, and just plain comfort at about a third.

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