It’s the American Thing to Do.
There are few things more All-American than Super Bowl Sunday. So on the day of the big game, why not serve something to drink that is equally All-American. The Boilermaker. Whiskey and beer, right? Not anymore. These days, the Boilermaker can be as traditional or as inventive as you want. For some ideas, we went to Erick Castro, whose bar Boilermaker NYC has made the whiskey and a beer-back by turns fashionable, fun, and funky. But first, a little history.
“Every time I say ‘the history of the Boilermaker’, it makes me laugh,” chuckled spirits historian David Wondrich at a recent Boilermaker seminar.
But, history abounds. In fact, Wondrich insists that to understand the Boilermaker, we have to understand the history of distilling. Back in the 1200s, Northern Europeans were distilling grain, but what they were distilling was essentially the draf, aka the garbage left over after milling. Distillers competed with bakers and brewers, which were established professions, for what grain was produced. Needless to say, garbage grain produced, well, garbage whiskey. You needed something to help it go down smoothly. Enter beer.
Around the 16th to 17th century in Holland/Belgium, the locals were indulging in the Kopstootje, aka “Little Head Butt.” This potent combination of a shot of genever (served in a traditional tulip-shaped glass) and a Dutch beer is still a favorite today. By the 1600s in England, there are records of the ‘Pop-In’, essentially a Depth Charge with the whiskey dropped into a pint of ale. But, by the end of the 1600s, punch had replaced whiskey and beer with punch for the upper classes. And, since punches were a mixture of spirit, sugar, spice, citrus, and water, no chaser was needed.
Flash forward to the New World. Citrus was a challenge to grow in the Northern colonies and water was of markedly better quality than that of the Old World. So, the Cocktail emerged. Moreover, now you could drink your whiskey with a glass of H20 as a chaser. That same H20 found itself replaced around the 1860s when breweries started exploding across the American landscape. At first, folks drank only beer or whiskey, but never beer and whiskey together.
Things started to change at the turn of the century with various whiskey/beer cocktail combos and during Prohibition with “needled” beer where spirits were mixed with weak beer. By the early 1900s, the drink so named “the Boilermaker and His Helper” appeared on the scene; by 1940, the name had been shortened to just the Boilermaker. We Americans have never looked back.
So, herewith is Erick Castro’s newest Boilermaker menu. Take note too of both Erick Castro’s and Dave Wondrich’s recommendation that you cut down the size of that pint glass to something smaller as does the rest of the world in these pairings, lest after one drink, you find yourself down for the count.
Also, note the frequent absence of actual whiskey in the list below. Now, the typical grain spirit has morphed into an “it’s only confined by your imagination” selection of everything from amaro to rum. Of course, whiskey in its myriad forms still plays strong. After all, this is America.
BOILERMAKERS – BEER & SHOT PAIRINGS from Boilermaker NYC:
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
Founder’s Breakfast Stout & Meletti Amaro
BEER EYE ON THE STRAIGHT RYE
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye & Sazerac 6yr Rye
Narragansett Lager & Ancient Age 80 Proof Bourbon
MACHETE IN SPACE
Tecate & Cabeza Blanco Tequila
Brooklyn Lager & Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon
SOFT POUR CORN
Sixpoint Sweet Action Cream Ale & Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon
APPLES & VANILLA
Doc’s Cider & Angostura 1919 Rum
AMARO NEVER DIES
North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Dark Ale & Amaro Montenegro