The History Of The Boilermaker.
This has been a complicated drink to research. Some sources say it was invented in the mining towns of Montana in the 19th century, but I don’t see evidence for that. Ultimately, it’s just whiskey and beer, which doesn’t deserve its menu item. After a ton of looking around and checking many different sources, I didn’t see any mention of this drink being called a boilermaker till at least 1957. The earliest use of whiskey and beer being called a boilermaker that I could find came from the February 1957 issue of the New Yorker volume 33. Maybe there is an older reference, but I have not seen it yet.
I’m going to complicate this a bit more by suggesting the Boilermakers’ origins might be from bootlegging during prohibition. In the 1932 cocktail book “The Art Of Mixing” by James A. Wiley and Helene M. Griffith, there is a cocktail on page 7 called the Block and Fall. The block and fall recipe is one shot glass of rye whiskey and a glass of beer. The joke goes, “Drink two – walk a block and fall.” This is useful because, in the Congressional Record of the 68th congress of the United States dated April 1 to April 14, 1924, on page 6030, they mention a style of bootleg whiskey called block and fall. The article states that even with substantial efforts and resources to coordinate federal, state, and local forces to block the smuggling by the sea of alcohol, it will not affect the block and fall variety of bootleg liquor. It describes block and fall as a small quantity of whiskey mixed with water and cheap grain alcohol. By doing this, a bootlegger could take a small amount of whiskey, lengthen it, and sell it for a considerable profit. The article states that Individuals will try and get prescriptions for whiskey, arguing medical necessity, and then use the small quart of medical whiskey to make block and fall. The article even makes the same joke about why the street name of this product is called block and fall. This is still done today with other illicit drugs. A kilo of coke often gets cut with meth, baby powder, etc., and suddenly that single kilo is now 4 kilos.
Again no one knows the exact origins of this drink, but my best guess is that the prohibition-era block and fall eventually became the boilermaker. Like block and falls purpose of lengthening whiskey and turning a small amount of whiskey into a large amount, the boilermaker was originally a way to turn a shot of whiskey into a larger drink on the cheap.
How Do You Drink A Boilermaker?
There are a few ways to drink the boilermaker. These are the most common ways.
- Drink the shot, then chase it with the beer.
- Sip them both together.
- Bomb shot it, dropped the whiskey in the beer, and consumed it all at once.
- Pour the whiskey into the beer and drink the beer as you normally would.
Again this is a weird one because it’s just two different drinks at the end of the day, but I feel the whiskey and beer should be mixed. You can’t sip lemonade and then take an individual sip of ice tea and say you’re drinking an Arnold palmer. They must be combined. The bomb shot way is acceptable, but that is to get you buzzed since you cannot enjoy the drink. The other way is to pour the shot into the beer and drink the beer normally. This is how I think the drink was originally intended to be consumed. For someone who just got off work, it was a way to get a taste of whiskey and make a cheap drink last before heading home to the wife and kids (And trust me, the stay-at-home parent has a MUCH harder job than the one who goes to work). It’s stronger than just a beer, but it also lets you sit down and take your time. A true hard-working man’s drink. Who knows, maybe that’s how it got the name boilermaker.
My Personal thoughts On The Boilermaker.
Not that anyone cares but here are my thoughts on the boilermakers. I like it, and I like the method of making it that I described above of pouring the shot in and drinking it like a regular beer. If I have a boilermaker, though, it is a one-and-done drink. I’m not having anything else after that. It’s also fun to see what combinations of spirit and beer taste good together. For example, I like a rye shot with a blue moon or some other hefeweizen, or another one I like is aged rum with a modelo negro. Using tequila in a boilermaker is excellent too. It’s fun to look at the back of the bar and mix and match a spirit to a beer.
The boilermaker reminds me of drinking Dogfish Head Beers too. That brewery’s beers are very high ABV (usually around 8 – 15%) and have intense flavors. If I order a dogfish head beer at a bar, it’s generally my last drink of the night. I have a horror story where I once drank 6 pints of their 120-minute IPA beers (15 – 20% ABV) while trying to keep up with my 6 foot 5 (200 cm) german Irish drinking buddy. That didn’t end well other than me still being alive, but that’s what the boilermaker reminds me of. The boilermaker is excellent in moderation. I can see why it was once called the block and fall.
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