Judging Beers by Sam Fitz – Vol. 6 – Beer & Whiskey: Perfect Partners

Sam Fitz is a Certified Cicerone® and the Beer Director at Meridian Pint and Smoke & Barrel. Read Sam’s take on Firestone Double Jack here.

Beer and whisky are perfect partners. Intimately related, the two are made with nearly the same ingredients and processes. In both cases, sugars are extracted from malt (modified grain) and the resulting sugar water is inoculated with yeast with the expectation of boozy goodness. Beer, of course, has hops, and whisky is distilled subsequently to intensify the spirits’ impact. Despite these small differences, the two are a natural pairing.

Purveyors of good beer usually have at least a few good whiskies on hand. Even if it’s just a familiar bottle of Jameson or an excellent Basil Hayden’s, good beer drinkers frequently want a whisky chaser. There used to be a widely recognized term for this: a boilermaker. Although the name has lost its familiarity, the tradition continues.

Taking the classic boilermaker to its furthest extreme, pouring a brew over the top of a shot of whisky, is an endeavor for the brave–or perhaps the overly ambitious. Either way, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Strength is the obvious draw of the boilermaker, and a PBR on top of a shot of rail whiskey easily accomplishes this. The diluted wateriness of the PBR masks the burn of the cheap whisky and makes a bunch of booze beyond tolerable. It’s definitely a field day for heavy drinkers. But what about a craft boilermaker? This is an incarnation that, despite its fortitude, is prized for its aroma, taste, feel and all the other wonderful sensations good beer and whisky can conjure. Enter Governor Hal.

Continues after the jump.

Hal Winslow, head of security at Smoke & Barrel, has a penchant for both beer and whisky, but it’s his devotion to tinkering with the two together that is most interesting. His go-to concoction, Woodford Reserve Bourbon beneath Oskar Blues Gubna, is such a harmonious pairing that it bears his name, Governor Hal.

Oskar Blues Gubna, an Imperial American IPA, is a beast on its own. At 10% alcohol, over 100 IBUs (the measurement for hop bitterness; 100 is at the upper limit) and with rye malt for a little bit of spice, Gubna is extreme in every way. Summit hops are used exclusively to add to the intensity. One of the first dwarf hops developed, Summit is grown on low trellises and is one of the only American varietals that is still hand-picked. The gentle nature of the harvest is thought to preserve the hops’ true characteristics, including intense embittering capabilities and a surprising bouquet of aromatics. Closely related to both Cascade & Amarillo, Summit expresses itself in the nose as orange, or perhaps tangerine, with a bracing piney-ness. A hint of spice from the rye malt lurks in the background.

Pouring a shot of Woodford over Gubna transforms the beverage into Governor Hal. The color remains a translucent orange-brown but, wow, the nose transforms. There is a vanilla character from the oak barrels in which Woodford is aged but their biggest contribution is an intense, tongue-drying woodiness that is balanced by the surprising citrus aromatics of Summit.

Intensity increases with each sip. A malty sweetness is present along with some of the vanilla notes from the nose, but hop bitterness and intense woodiness from the bourbon take center stage. Despite the impact of this concoction, it’s worth noting that it is completely devoid of any alcohol burn. That’s pretty impressive, considering the strength of the two products.

Pausing between sips creates an increasingly difficult-to-deny desire to drink more Governor Hal. The lingering bitterness and woody dryness coat your tongue and consume your taste buds. Inevitably you’re coaxed into another sip, again and again, until the Governor is completely consumed. The end result, feeling “good” a lot sooner than you would expect, was the original impetus for the creation of the boilermaker. Now, Governor Hal makes the aromatic and flavorful sensations experienced along the way into the perfect partnership of beer and whisky. It’s a true craft experience.

21 Comment

  • andy

    Boilermaker has lost its currency. Egads! I have become aged!

  • claire

    So if I waltz into Smoke & Barrel (already high on my list of new places to visit) and ask for the “Governor Hal,” they’ll know what I’m talking about? Because I am going to do that.

    • ledroittiger

      Claire – they have something like 4 or 5 specialty boilermakers on the menu there. The beers on tap are wonderful as well, so you could even get adventurous and try mixing your own!! (Jacobins Rouge + bourbon of your choice = whiskey sour boilermaker?)

    • Yes! It’s on the menu…

  • any suggestions for food pairings?

  • There is a lot of bad beer writing around. Sam’s columns stand in stark contrast.

  • Nothing kills the joy of a nice buzz by trying to elevate the BOILERMAKER into craft/snob territory. Is this just a way to excuse your alcoholism while simultaneously making it sound like you’re knowledgeable about something? It’s a boilermaker. You drop booze into a beer and pound it to get your maximum drunk on.

    Perhaps this is why people are enchewing craft beers and opting for Pabst. Sometimes, a beer should just beer a fucking beer, with none of this wankery.

    • “…just be…” Gotta proofread my rants more carefully.

      • I don’t entirely agree with your point, but I did think that “Sometimes, a beer should just beer a fucking beer” was your strongest argument.

        • My cynical side (which is most of me) suspects this is a convenient way for bars to bundle a $6 beer with a $8 shot and make people feel good about blowing $14 on a drink that was originally desgined to get you smashed for about $5.

    • I love craft beers and I love good bourbon. But I wholeheartedly agree with you here. Give me a shot of Beam and a glass of Coors and let me do the rest.

      • I agree. If you want to enjoy a good beer and good whiskey, drink them separately. If you want to get smashed on cheap whiskey, mask it with a (cheap) beer.

        • Are you anti-cocktail, too? Just think of this as a beer-based cocktail.

          • Not anti-cocktail (although I don’t usually drink them). But I do think the Boilermaker has a very specific quality and purpose about it that doesn’t lend itself to high-end brews/whiskeys (and that a Boilermaker is only a Boilermaker if it is whiskey in a proper shotglass, dropped into a mug of cold beer and consumed in its entirety immediately). Simply my opinion though, I imagine the beer and whiskey cocktails at S&B taste good.

  • I agree nothing wrong with the craft brews as long as it’s not yet another IPA..ug can these people make anything else?I tend to agree with the shot and a beer concept most times but would drink a decent craft beer.As for high end BS cocktails you can keep that $hit.

  • I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I know a thing or two about boilermakers. There are two glaring errors in his write-up. He says,

    “Purveyors of good beer usually have at least a few good whiskies on hand. Even if it’s just a familiar bottle of Jameson or an excellent Basil Hayden’s, good beer drinkers frequently want a whisky chaser. There used to be a widely recognized term for this: a boilermaker. Although the name has lost its familiarity, the tradition continues.”

    The (cheap) whiskey always goes first, followed by the beer. The beer is the chaser, not the other way around.

    Second error — he is confusing a “depth charge” with a boilermaker. A “depth charge” is when you drop a shot glass full of whiskey (shot glass and all) into the beer and then drink it all down. You don’t “pour the brew over the top of a shot of whiskey.”

  • I love to sip a shot of good bourbon or rye along with my beer. I think it’s better that way than mixing up the flavors of both.

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