It was the days when the engine room of Britain was fuelled by heavy industry and manufacturing. Smokestacks smudged the skylines of its towns and cities, factories were the foundation of a nation that made stuff and built things and, after a hard-day of manual labour, workers had one hell of a thirst on.
Post-shift, legions of sweaty-arsed manual workers, their throats drier than a Bedouin’s flip-flop, would hit the pub and order a mid-strength ale and a whisky – the former slaked their thirst while the latter helped anaesthetise aching muscles and take the edge off what must have been gruelling graft.
These days, however, Britain doesn’t make many things anymore. Mines and foundries have been replaced by hot-desking and break-out sessions; more people work in marketing and PR than they do in manufacturing and the only thing most people hit at work is the mouse key.
Which means that if you see someone drinking a beer with a whisky these days then, chances are, they’re a bartender. The simple beer and shot combination has, in recent times, become beloved among bartenders who, after a stint behind the stick, slide onto the bar stool to wind down.
Referred to most commonly as a “Boilermaker”, the origin of the simple serve is contested among cocktail historians but in his book, ‘The Joy of Mixology’, renowned booze boffin Gary Regan credits steelworkers in western Pennsylvania. Others look further back to 17th century England and the “pop-in,” which involved tavern dwellers making their rough ales more palatable with the addition of bitters or fruity tinctures.
And then, of course, there’s the “half and half” – a serve synonymous with Scottish pubs that, according to many, first appeared in Glasgow’s Tollbooth bar where hard-up drinkers would club together and share a vessel of ale alongside a bottle of whisky. Keen to make more of a margin and coax in more customers, the landlord shrewdly started serving the dual-drink in smaller measures– a third of a pint and a dram.
“THERE WAS A TIME, NOT THAT LONG AGO, WHEN THE SIGHT OF SOMEONE SIMULTANEOUSLY SINKING A BEER AND SIPPING A WHISKY WAS QUITE COMMON/”
Regardless of its origins, it’s always been a beautifully basic, elbows on the table, brass tack kind of serve and, until recently, it’s left little room for experimentation beyond classic combination such as Guinness and Irish whiskey; bourbon and American pilsners and tequila with easy-drinking Latin American lagers.
But now, in an age where both craft beer and artisan spirits are being appreciated in greater depth, bartenders are broadening their boilermaker horizons and being more cerebral in their exploration of this classic kinship between beer and spirits.
There are reasons why it works. Firstly, the soul of several spirits is, of course, beer. The whisky-making process, for example, mirrors that of brewing right up till fermentation while the likes of Adnams, one of the UK’s biggest regional brewers, distills its own beer to make its Copper House Gin.
Beyond the similarities between the two drinks, the Boilermaker dovetails with a lot of current drinking trends. There’s a working-class romance to it which, perhaps fuelled by Fancy-Dan cocktail fatigue among some drinkers, has seen it hailed by a hipster crowd that are more open to experimentation and trying things that they ordinarily wouldn’t.
Not only is the Boilermaker a great way for venues to get those more esoteric bottles moving off the back bar, the naked serve also creates an opportunity for bartenders to tell consumers more about the flavours and back story of what they’re drinking.
What’s more, in addition to the educational element, The Boilermaker commands its own imbibing occasion, often pre-dinner, that doesn’t tread on the toes of other sales opportunities. As such, it’s a fantastic way of boosting customer spend per head and provides an easy way to differentiate your drinking establishment from others.
Given both the burgeoning craft beer scene and the thriving artisan spirits sector, there
are myriad pairings to be had. But we’ve sat down and created a trio of terrifically tasty pairings using the marvellous beers from the Brooklyn Brewery.