A shot and a beer is the easiest drink out there (both to make and drink), so it’s no surprise that it’s a go-to pick for bartenders once they’re done working for the night. “When you’re a bartender, people always ask, 'What’s your favorite drink?'” says bartender Michael Rubel of Henry’s Swing Club. “I always just preferred a shot and a beer, the same way a chef after a long night of making perfect little plates just wants a burger and grilled cheese. The simplicity of a boilermaker seems perfect for the end of the shift."
Also called a boilermaker, a shot and a beer is also cropping up on drink menus all over Chicago. But these aren’t just cheap whiskey and PBR. Bartenders are creating new-school shots and beers by figuring out which local beers and spirits work best together. Some even throw in an extra shot, like pickle juice, for added flavor.
“I love classic cocktails, but you can only do so many riffs on an Old Fashioned,” Fulton Market Kitchen’s Brian Sturgulewksi says. “Taking something that’s perceived as a blue collar drink and then elevating it with craft spirits and beer grew out of that.” Of course, you can also get good deals on regular shots and beers: At the Violet Hour, the Last Call is a Miller High Life shorty and a shot of Rittenhouse Rye for $5. At Twisted Spoke, there's a grab bag of cheap beers and a shot of Jim Beam for $5. And at Ay Chiwowa, the boilermaker goes Mexican with a can of Tecate and a shot of tequila for $9 on Thursdays.
So should you slam the shot then drink the beer? Or drop the beer in the glass? Or neither?
“You can do whatever you want,” Sturgulewski says. “I’m a big believer that rules are made to be broken. The classic way is to drop in the shot, but the idea here is meant to be a pairing. You can pour your shot into the beer to change the beer from just a beer to a cocktail. Or you can shoot it and drink the beer. Your choice.” For those times you want something more inventive, you've got plenty of options, including two new bars with sections on their menu devoted to boilermakers. Here are six bars and restaurants to try a new boilermaker.
At Fulton Market Kitchen, there are seven boilermakers from which to choose. Ranging $6-$13, they include FmktK Mixology (Coors Banquet Beer and bourbon), Shriners Lodge (Stiegl Grapefruit Radler and Jeppson’s Malort) and a rotating guest's boilermaker, currently New York bartender Joaquin Simo’s watermelon wheat beer and Vida Mezcal pairing.
Sturgulewski found inspiration for his pairings in various places.
“Genever and St. Feuillien is the beer and shot choice in Amsterdam,” he says. “Radler and Malört are popular in Chicago, and the low alcohol beer balances out the bitterness of the wormwood liqueur.”
Henry’s Swing Club has five different boilermakers, including a shot of tequila with a Shiner Bock, and a shot of Fernet with Founder’s All Day IPA.
Rubel says the drinks have been popular, which he attributes both to people wanting to try bartenders' favorite drinks and a greater appreciation for whiskey in the U.S.
“We wanted to do a classic Chicago pairing, so what’s better than Malört and an Old Style?” he asks. “That sells really well.”
Each Monday, Longman’s bar manager Phil Olson offers a weekly $6 boilermaker.
“Monday is unofficially industry night, and we had $1 beers and $2 shots. This is one more way to add something to that night,” he says. “We started over the winter with bourbons paired with porters or stouts.”
While the pairing changes depending on supplies and the weather, recent combinations have been Letherbee Vernal Gin with Boulevard’s Lemon Ginger Radler, and Letherbee Besk with Off Color Troublesome, a combination Olson calls “refreshing, crisp and tart.”
Each Monday, Table, Donkey and Stick offers a shot of Buffalo Trace’s Benchmark bourbon for $3 and a 50 cent PBR, and you can throw in a rotating pickleback for an extra buck. The kitchen is making the brine based on ingredients at hand. While it’s currently smoked onion, past backs have included cauliflower brine and ramp pickle brine. Take the bourbon shot, then the pickleback, then drink the beer.