The Boilermaker: Michael Butt on a beer and a shot

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Other: Opinion

Forget cocktails. A beer and a shot is the ideal way to capture the energy of the spirits world


If I asked 1,000 professional bartenders what their favourite drink was, what would they answer? And if I offered the same bartenders an actual drink would I get the same response? Well, not unless the first answer was ‘Boilermaker’, I wouldn’t.

Firstly I would like to clarify my meaning of a Boilermaker: it is a beer with a spirit on the side. The spirit can be served on ice or straight up, in a balloon, rocks, tulip, copita or even a shot glass.

After a small straw poll, the first question’s most popular answer was Daiquiri, from a fairly small pool of classic cocktail responses. When asked about their choice of Boilermaker the answers were, surprisingly, considerably more varied, with responders fancying tequila, various types of whisk(e)y, brandies,

Amaro/Fernet/Jäger and one gin, with only vodka having no adherents. Amongst the sample set, very few brands were repeated in either the spirit or the beer glass.

Bartenders have both the knowledge to choose a pairing that brings the best out of both components, and a desire to experience the spirit in the manner that the distiller envisaged, without the addition of charcoal, yuzu or a Chartreuse ‘air’.

Over the last five years the bartending community has done amazing work in helping to change how people drink, with cocktails now even being considered an acceptable accompaniment to food in serious restaurants, proof of which can be evidenced in the description and naming of cocktails in even broadsheet restaurant review sections.

This has, at least in part, been down to a desire to demonstrate their skills; to validate their own worth independently of the insufficient value ascribed by their employers.

But I digress. My question is this: by favouring carefully crafted cocktails over the simpler charms of the ‘beer and shot’, are we guilty of not following our own advice – of not offering our customers the best deal? Should we be selling Boilermakers, and, by doing so, giving patrons a truer distillation of our own practical experience of drinking?

There’s an additional possible downside to our enthusiasm for the cocktail to consider: that it has reduced the spend per head of diners by conflating the pre-dinner cocktail-followed-by-wine choice into just the one drink.

I’d argue that our fascination with the cocktail has made us forget the role that spirits have always had in the dining experience. The digestif, for instance, is dying a death in the modern restaurant sector, while the selection of spirits in high-end fine dining restaurants – where after-dinner spirit sales are still significant – is often, quite simply, terrible.

I was recently offered a selection of only mixto tequilas, or stupidly priced cognac in lovely bottles – suitable only for giant-walleted plutocrats – to conclude a two-Michelin-star meal.

This disconnect is totally at odds with the vibrant nature of development in the world of spirits, where new products and even categories are being launched all the time.

The Boilermaker is hands down one of our best ways of both increasing the spend per head of a customer while at the same time educating them in the world of spirits. It is a discount easily factored into the price, and the spirit can be drunk at a slower pace, making the process of learning to enjoy that much easier.

On top of this, because it preserves the idea of a separate drink in the hour before dinner, it doesn’t have a negative impact on wine sales in a traditional dining experience.

It is not prescriptive, it is full of character and infinitely adaptable, just like the bartenders who claim to love them. So the next time I’m in, please make mine a beer and a shot!

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Michael Butt

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