The combination of a shot of whiskey and a beer, more commonly known as a Boilermaker, hardly seems at home in the laced up world of modern cocktails. But like a number of unlikely second acts, from B-list cocktails to shooters themselves, the dive bar tradition hasn’t escaped the tinkering and tweaking that have elevated countless formulas from mundane to memorable.
The popular post-shift drink has taken on numerous iterations in recent years, even garnering its own menu section at a growing number of bars, as bartenders stake a claim to the ideal pairing—some sticking close to the easy drinkability of the lager and whiskey combo of the standard-bearer, while others tend toward the avant-garde.
Here, top bartenders from across the country on their essential beer and shot pairings.
Mellow Corn and Budweiser
Morgan Schick, Trick Dog, San Francisco
On the nerdy side of it, I think that this cool thing happens in the pairing where it brings out a sort of fennel flavor in the whiskey. More importantly, this is America and we love three things: apple pie, freedom and ice cold Budweiser with a shot of corn whiskey.
Aquavit and Cider
Natasha David, Nitecap, New York
I love a nice glass of dry funky cider with a chilled shot of aquavit. Nothing like tart, earthy apples paired with anise—it’s almost like eating pie.
50/50 Montenegro/Mezcal and Saison
Sarah Morrissey, Pig Bleecker, New York
My favorite shot is half amaro Montenegro and half mezcal. It’s smoky, bitter and sweet, and goes down really easy. Right now I love pairing it with a cider, but normally I go for a pale ale or saison.
Jäger and Miller High Life
St. John Frizell, Fort Defiance, Brooklyn
Having come of age in New Orleans, I’ve always been a fan of chilled Jägermeister shots with a cold cheap beer. Miller High Life was mine. I can’t tell you what it was about it I liked, except that it has very little flavor except a vaguely bread-y thing, and Jägermeister has ton of Christmassy flavors: ginger, cinnamon, licorice, mint. I’m not saying I would rush out and recommend this combo to anyone, but that’s what it was for me from the ’90s until a few years ago.
Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye and Brooklyn Lager
Allen Katz, New York Distilling Company, Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Brewery and New York Distilling Company are a mere eight blocks from each other. Aside from the neighborhood pairing, the two drinks together go down smoother than a Mel Torme ballad. Brooklyn Lager has a firm, malty backbone and lovely floral finish. Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye has a racy rye back bone but the genteel sweetness of rock candy sugar, cherries, cinnamon and orange provides a quick and easy jolt.
Jameson and Budweiser
Dan Sabo, formerly Hotel Figueroa, Los Angeles
It’s not pretty or fancy, but I’ve got a real soft spot for a bottle of Budweiser and a shot of Jameson. The preference is more out of habit than anything; it was the go to post-shift combo for me and a large group of friends and coworkers for years (a chef friend always referred to it as a “Happy Meal”).
Linie Aquavit and Pilsner
Tristan Willey, Equal Parts LLC, New York
I used to be a strict American whiskey and pilsner kind of drinker, then I morphed into a dry amaro and pilsner kind of drinker. And then Toby Cecchini turned me into a frozen Linie Aquavit and pilsner guy, which is where I am right now. I do also love a China China and Lager.
Irish Whiskey and German Lager; Mezcal and Cider
Paul Calvert, Ticonderoga Club, Atlanta
If the beer guides the shot: a good, clean German lager or pilsner with a shot of Irish whiskey—like Mahr’s Ungespundet Lager (or really any beer from Mahr’s) and a slug of Power’s or The Irishman Grand Reserve. The whole operation seems mellow but not insubstantial; it’s a session boilermaker. If the shot guides the beer: agave and cider. Specifically, Forteleza Blanco or a mezcal from Vago and a dry French cider from Cyril Zangs or Domaine de Kerveguen on the side. The combination is weird and wild: green, savory, somehow both summery and autumnal all at once.
Kentucky Bourbon and American Pilsner
Brian Bartels, Happy Cooking Hospitality, New York
I associate having a beer and a shot with finishing a long day or experiencing some version of a harrowing ordeal, so it only makes sense to drink something familiar and simple. Let everything else in life remain complicated. Let the beer and shot be a classic crisp American pilsner and a sweeter, caramel and vanilla Kentucky bourbon. That’s my happy place.
Campari and Stiegl Radler
Abigail Gullo, Compere Lapin, New Orleans
Old Granddad Bonded and Pilsner
Tyson Buhler, Death & Company, New York
More often than not, a good bourbon, OGD Bonded, and a quality pilsner is sitting in front of me at a bar but, some calvados from Adrien Camut and a Rodenbach Grand Cru is a “final meal”-level pairing.
Plantation Pineapple and Kölsch; Tequila and Riesling
Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour, Chicago
Boilermakers for me are all about balance. I like a kölsch and Plantation Reverend Stiggins’ Pineapple rum, but my favorite boilermaker is a sweet riesling and a blanco tequila. The funky tropical notes of the wine stand completely opposed to the wet shale and bell pepper notes in the tequila.
Laird’s and Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout
Ezra Star, Drink, Boston
My favorite beer and shot pairing is a shot of Laird’s 100 [apple brandy] and Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout. The combination is strong, enjoyable and, most importantly, tastes like an apple pie.
Amaro and IPA
Chris Hannah, French 75 Bar, New Orleans
I’m not always an IPA fan, but I do like a sweeter amaro—like Meletti or Averna—with an IPA.
Maker’s Mark and Any Ice Cold Beer
TJ Lynch, Mother’s Ruin and Loverboy, New York
Honestly, if I can just get the coldest beer available, I kinda don’t care what it is. As long as it’s ice cold, I’m in. As for the shot? Maker’s Mark—it’s candy sweet, and available everywhere.