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A Short History of 'a Beer and a Shot'

No one knows when the boilermaker was invented, but it's on a serious upswing in Dublin right now.
Photo by Flickr user throgers.

Like fire, the beer-and-a-shot (or boilermaker) was probably discovered, not invented. And it probably happened somewhere between Ireland and the US. I personally like to think the combination of whiskey and beer appeared by magic, out of nowhere. Not because it was fashionable, but because it was necessary.

But in my mind, pairing whiskey and beer is just an express highway to fuckedtown. If I start downing shots with beer, you’re going to have to carry me out on a gurney. But apparently, there is a whole sophisticated level to this entire thing that I’m completely missing, and it’s on a serious upswing in Dublin.


For the Irish, the combination makes sense, since both beer and whiskey share the same DNA. “We make a beer before we make a whiskey. They’re quite connected,” Kevin Piggott, a brand ambassador of Tullamore DEW, tells me.

Whiskey and stout, usually Guinness, has traditionally been the most common pairing in Ireland. “With the stout, you have that chocolate creaminess and actually quite a low alcohol level which works nicely with whiskey. At the time people were not thinking about the pairing that much in terms of pairing flavors. It’s just something that happened.” Piggot continues.

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“We went to 25 breweries and sat down with different beer experts in the US to find out what beer styles worked with our whiskey and what didn’t. IPA, stout, and pilsner worked the best, whereas wheat beers and sour beers didn’t necessarily work that well. Tullamore is a bit sweeter, so it works well with IPA because they are bitter. The contrast is quite interesting because it mitigates the bitterness in one and the sweetness in the other, so it actually creates a balance in the overall effect on the palate.”

But it’s not just distilleries that are interested in the revival of the boilermaker. Dublin bars like IdleWild have started to offer tasting menus of different beer and whiskey combinations. The building where IdleWild is located used to be a brothel (for the Dublin Castle, apparently) in the early 1800’s and later became storage for, you guessed it, whiskey. Now the place hosts a neighborhood bar, the largest disco ball in Dublin—and boilermakers, lots of them. IdleWild’s reasoning for offering a variety of boilermakers was “why wouldn’t you want a beer and a whiskey?” Fair enough.

If that’s not enough of a reason for you, there’s the option of getting fancier (at IdleWild and elsewhere) with beer and cocktail pairings: a Boulevardier and a red ale, and a rum and a pale ale… and there’s also rumor of a “bartender’s cure,” also known as a “black and black:” a pint of Guinness and a shot of Fernet. For me, that last one would probably lead to a gurney, but maybe you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

There’s no correct way to approach the boilermaker. You can sip both them slowly and savor the flavor, or shoot the whiskey and then slowly sip the beer (which works great if you’re trying to get blackout drunk). Others prefer to drink most of the beer first and then, when there is only a little beer left, dump the whiskey into the pint and sort of rinse it to get a slightly more seamless flavor transition. Just don’t drop the shot glass into the pint. It’s not spring break.