The Search for the Perfect Boilermaker

I have to confess – I’m not much of a beer guy.  I like beer, but I don’t LOVE beer.  More times than not I’d rather reach for a glass of whiskey than a pint of beer.  That said, there are a few local brews I keep around for a pour from time to time.  So when Bulleit asked if I’d like to put together Boilermaker pairings with their whiskey brand and write about it, I thought this could be fun.  Bulleit provided their standard bourbon, rye and 10-year-old bourbon for this little experiment, along with gift cards to purchase some beer to pair with their whiskies.

If you don’t know, a Boilermaker is a glass of whiskey and a shot of beer.  Wait… that’s not right, but it’s definitely not wrong!  A Boilermaker is a pairing of beer and whiskey.  There are three traditional ways of enjoying the pairing.  First, you can down a shot of whiskey and chase with the beer.  Secondly, you can drop the whiskey inside the beer and drink, a la the Car Bomb.  Lastly, and my preferred method, is to alternately sip on both.  I decided to stick with two different beer brands – Louisiana’s Abita and Irish favorite Guinness.  What follows is a rundown of my favorite pairings.

Let’s start with Bulleit Bourbon.  Bulleit stands out of the crowd a bit with its signature spicy flavor profile, due to the large percentage of rye in its mash bill.  Tom Bulleit told me in the past that percentage is about a third, with the other two thirds being corn and a touch of malted barley.  Bulleit is bottled at 90 proof, so it is strong enough to stand out in cocktails but also makes a great daily sipper.

I first paired Bulleit with Abita Amber, the brewery’s best seller and one of my favorite beers.  According to Abita’s website, Amber is a “Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts and German Perle hops.”  It’s medium-bodied, and has some caramel and malt flavors.  Bulleit’s own caramel notes sit nicely with the beer.  The bourbon’s spicy character shines here, cutting right through the beer’s caramel/toffee nature.

Next up was a pairing with Abita’s Sweet Orange Lager.  This beer, brewed with pilsner and wheat malts, with Louisiana sweet oranges added, is on the sweet side.  It is light, slighlty malty, and features a heavy dose of sweet citrus.  Citrus pairs well with bourbon – see just about any old cocktail!  Bulleit’s rye spice interweaves beautifully with the lager’s sweet oranges.  Delicous, but definitely on the sweeter side.

Please ignore the poor pour of Guinness.

Next on the docket was Bulleit Rye.  Distilled at MGP in Indiana using their 95% rye mashbill, Bulleit Rye whiskey is a spicy and a bit dry.  I thought I’d start with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolate malt creates a nice bed for the spicy rye whiskey.  However, there was something about it that didn’t quite click.  It wasn’t my favorite pairing, but it was an interesting one.  

I also tried Guinness Blonde, which worked much better.  The beer was light and crisp, allowing for the rye whiskey to take center stage.

Bulleit Rye was also paired with Abita Amber, but the rye whiskey’s spice threw the whole thing out of balance.

Bulleit 10-year-old bourbon is the brand’s oldest offering.  The extra years maturing in oak barrels give its caramel and vanilla notes a bit more richness than the standard Bulleit.  It’s still spicy, but that spice is more rounded.  Nice baking spices add  some complexity.  

The first pairing was with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolately stout provide a perfect background for Bulleit 10’s deep caramel and integrated spice to shine.  Speaking of chocolately beer, Abita’s brown ale, Turbodog, works well with the decade old bourbon.  The deep caramels of both drinks build upon each other.

I also tried a Boilermaker with Bulleit 10 and Abita Amber.  Like the earlier pairing that included the standard Bulleit Bourbon with this beer, Bulleit 10’s richer caramel nature hit all the right spots with Amber’s caramel and slightly bittersweet flavors.

Some pairings didn’t work for me.  Bulleit Rye and Sweet Orange Lager, for one.  The beer was just too sweet for the rye spice of the whiskey.  It was suggested I pair an IPA with the rye, but I can’t stand IPAs.  Maybe I haven’t found the right one.   Bulleit and Bulleit 10 paired with a blonde beer just didn’t click.  Abita Mardi Gras Bock was okay but wasn’t memorable.

I appreciate the opportunity Bulleit provided me here to explore some great beers while trying to find the “perfect Boilermaker.”  My two favorites of this experiment were Bulleit 10 paired with Guinness Draught, as well as the Bulleit and Abita Sweet Orange Lager combination.  Delicious. I think I’ll have to continue on with my experiments. 

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