Whether you call it a city special, a boilermaker or a “Kopstootje” — which roughly translates to “little headbutt” in Swedish — the pairing of a shot of whiskey and a beer is a marriage steeped in history and dive bars across the globe. I’ve dabbled in a good number of one-and-ones in my drinking career, 99.9 percent of which have been PBR and a shot of Jameson. Not once has it occured to me that a shot and a beer doesn’t need to “put some hair on your ass,” but could actually taste good.
“There are a few things I like to keep in mind when pairing beer with whiskey,” says Katie Cheney, former bartender and editor at DrinksSaloon.com. “First, consider the different flavor profiles of each drink — beer can range from light and refreshing to dark and malty, while whiskey can be smooth and sweet or smoky and bold.” Once you have an idea of the flavors you want to pair, she says, “the next step is to just experiment with different combinations until you find one that you enjoy.”
With that in mind, here are the best beer and whiskey pairings…
Best Whiskey to Pair with Pilsner and Wheat Beers
For light, crispy beers like pilsner, the most often recommended whiskey pairing is something equally light and crisp like an Irish whiskey, or sweet and caramelly like an easy-drinking bourbon. The smokiness of rye or scotch would overpower the flavor profile of your favorite pilsner, as would a heavier, dark bourbon like the oak-barrel Woodford Reserve.
This applies to wheat beers as well, which are as light and refreshing as pilsners but tend to be uniquely tart. And so, you want something that serves as a complement to your refreshing beer, Cheney says, like a smooth and sweet shot of Maker’s Mark.
Best Whiskey to Pair with Stouts
For fans of dark, heavy beers like stouts and porters, the most recommended pairing is something to bring out their underlying chocolate or coffee undertones — a la a rich, semi-sweet bourbon like Knob Creek.
The bitterness of the stout complements an oak-barreled bourbon without one overpowering the other, making for a refreshing pairing you can sip on rather than shoot. “Pair a robust porter with a rich rye whiskey like Sazerac Rye, or enjoy a malty Oktoberfest beer with a full-bodied bourbon like Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve,” Cheney offers. “Ultimately, don’t be afraid to get creative. There are no wrong answers really, it mostly comes down to what flavor profiles you personally prefer.”
Best Whiskey to Pair with Ales and Lagers
Between IPAs, pale ales and American lagers, this category covers a large spectrum in terms of taste. But it turns out, the PBR and Jameson pairing has more going for it than simply being the cheapest option. The malted barley of an Irish whiskey strengthens the malted flavors in your lager or ale, which makes them perfect bedfellows. “A hoppy IPA would pair well with a smoky single malt like Lagavulin 16 Year Old,” Cheney says.
“The holt and maltiness of the beer will offer a sweet-and-sour taste that you may be looking for in a malt combination drink,” writes Stephen Myers for The Whiskey Guide. “Both whiskey and beer accent and flow with each other as soon as it gets combined.”
So, the next time you order something like a Stella, Lone Star or Sierra Nevada, try pairing it with a shot of Bushmills or Tullamore. But also don’t be so quick to dismiss the ol’ tried-and-true Jameson either. I know I won’t be making that mistake anymore.