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The Boilermaker: An International Thesaurus

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There’s an age-old notion in Denmark that the more nicknames a person has, the more beloved he or she is. If you apply that concept to the barroom, the classic shot-and-a-beer combination known as the Boilermaker may be the most beloved cocktail of all time. The whiskey-beer pairing is most famous in the United States, where it’s enjoying a widespread revival at the moment, but it has roots in the UK, and it also exists in some form in several other countries. And everyone, it seems, has their own name for it.

Here’s a brief survey of some of the many synonyms from around the globe; read it to ensure you get the right kind of “little headbutt” when you order in the Netherlands:

England: They use the term Boilermaker in England, but it applies to a different concoction than the one associated with the name in the United States. If you ask for a Boilermaker in the average London pub, you’ll get a half-pint of “mild ale” on draught mixed with bottled brown ale.
 

Germany: The German term for the Boilermaker is Herrengedeck, which translates, tremendously, to “gentlemen’s menu.” Another difference: they typically use a domestic grain brandy in place of whiskey, and pair it with one of the many excellent styles of German beer.

Netherlands: The Dutch rival Germany in the excellence of their name for the shot-and-beer combo: they call it Kopstootje [kop-stow-che], which means “little headbutt.” They also commonly use a shot of Jenever in place of whiskey alongside the beer, but, hey, you don’t have to, and you can still borrow the name.

Russia: It’s not clear why, but Russians refer to their version of the Boilermaker (which calls for—surprise—vodka) as Yorsh. Yorsh is the Russian word for a Eurasian species of fish called a Ruffe. The fish is unique for its ability to adapt to many habitats—like the Boilermaker, which thrives in every range of drinking establishment, from craft cocktail venues to hotel lounges to dive bars.

Scotland: To be honest, they may or may not do this in Scotland, but in the U.S., if you use Scotch in a Boilermaker, according to drinks historian David Wondrich, it allegedly becomes known as a Lester or an L.G. The reasons for this remain obscure.

U.S.: Misc: Like Inuits and snow, we have many names for the Boilermaker in the United States. Some call it a one and one, which is simple and self-explanatory: Pour whiskey, pour beer, set one drink next to the other. One and one.

U.S.: Misc: You want even more simple and self-explanatory? If you’re in a literal-minded mood, go with the tried-and-true, shot-and-a-beer. Tells it like it is.

U.S.: Misc: You can walk into any bar in the U.S. and ask for a “whiskey, beer back,” and you’ll get a Boilermaker. The “beer back” part describes a beer “behind” your order of whiskey, ie., a side of beer, or a beer chaser. According to drinks writer Kayleigh Kulp, back in the day the beer back came free of charge along with the paid-for whiskey. Now there’s a trend due for its own revival.

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Bulleit Boilermaker - Supercall
Matthew Kelly/ Supercall

No matter what you call it, the combination of a beer sipped side-by-side with a shot of whiskey is a classic standby possessed of an almost magical property: It’s infinitely variable, and yet it couldn’t be easier to make. Take any of Bulleit’s three whiskeys and build a Boilermaker worthy of the tradition: the maple accents of the Bourbon, the honeyed spice of the Rye, and the rich vanilla of the 10-year-old will each call forth unexpected elements of your favorite beer.  

U.S.: Misc: Among other monikers, Wondrich refers to the combination as “the boilermaker and his helper”—the helper being the beer—and the Block and Fall, which comes from James Wiley and Helene Griffith's 1932 cocktail book, The Art of Mixing.

U.S.: Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love, as big-hearted as its name suggests, wants everyone to get involved in the fun, so it calls the Boilermaker a Citywide Special—and usually sticks to the more inexpensive beer-and-whiskey options for its components.

U.S.: Various: As we mentioned, the Boilermaker is experiencing a mini-boom right now, as craft cocktail bars all over the country are developing creative Boilermaker pairings and giving them their own section on the menu. Naturally, they’ve come up with unique names for all of the combos. Three of our favorites from the West, Midwest, and East (with the name of the bar, its city, and the combo):

Fisherman’s Friend (Speckled and Drake, Seattle; whiskey and local macrobrew)

Shift Drink (Billy Sunday, Chicago; aged bourbon and Kolsch-style beer).

National Anthem (Boilermaker, NYC; bourbon and craft lager)