While a cold beer goes well with a shot of pretty much any liquor at the end of a long day, there’s no harm in upgrading the combination with a little creative thought. The right notes in the shot can elevate the beer and vice versa. Think of it as a deconstructed cocktail.
For the best recommendations for beer and shot pairings, we tapped two pros from The Cannibal LA: Adam Flamenbaum, the restaurant’s general manager and liquor expert, and the restaurant’s beer czar, certified Cicerone Julian Kurland. The two gentlemen kindly set out on a evening of Boilermaking (and Boilerdrinking), with Kurland challenging Flamenbaum to find appropriate spirits for his favorite styles and brands of beer. Along the way, the duo discovered seven revelatory shot and beer combos. Try these precise prescriptions or use their thinking to put your own twist on the classic post-work pick-me-up.
IPA + Gin
Trendy as they are, IPAs are not the easiest beers to pair with spirits, whose flavors can easily run afoul of their signature bitterness. Kurland opted for a bottle on the friendly end of the spectrum: Revolution No. 004 from Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion series, which features South African hops rather than the usual, pungent West Coast hops. Kurland calls it “lush and tropical with white peach notes.” Flamenbaum complemented this easy-going IPA with room temperature Plymouth gin. “It’s bright but not overpowering,” he says. “It accentuates all of the beer’s natural flavors and adds a different type of bite to the hops.” And yes, the temperature of the gin matters. Martini purists may blanch, but in this case you want it on the warmer side so all of its botanical-heavy flavors shine through. Flamenbaum prefers his gin that way. “Most of the bartenders at The Cannibal love warm gin,” he says. “It’s our favorite thing.”
Stout + Pineau des Charentes
For their second matchup, Kurland chose a big, roasty stout: Oskar Blue’s 1050. “It’s motor oil-thick,” he says, “with a huge malt backbone that’s chewy and dense. There’s a wonderful amount of roasted coffee and chocolate.” Such a bold beer calls for an equally strong and flavorful spirit. Flamenbaum’s choice: Pineau des Charentes, a Cognac-fortified French aperitif. “You get some heat and spiced flavors from the Cognac, but then a little acidity that lightens it up a bit,” he says. “It’s easy to drink but with bold flavors. It kind of reminds me of a stout, which people think of as having a heavy body but actually just has heavy flavors.” Combined with the stout, the pineau accentuates the beer’s chocolate and vanilla notes.
Red/Amber Ale + Irish Whiskey
Straddling the categories of both red and amber ales, Kurland chose Bell’s new Roundhouse, an India red ale, which is brewed with a touch of honey. “From there we wanted to play with something malt-based,” he says.” “Because that’s what gives these styles of beer their color and sweetness.” Flamenbaum picked good old reliable Jameson. “It’s made primarily with malted Irish barley so you get this big maltiness from it and a little sweetness,” he says. “It just flows with the Roundhouse—they accentuate each other. You get this malt hit from the beer and then you take a sip of the Jameson and it just keeps going.”
Hefeweizen + Cocchi Americano
“This was a tough one,” Kurland says of the typically banana- and clove-forward Hefeweizen style. “But we found a good pairing.” He opted for one with a strong body: Weihenstephaner’s Vitus, a weizenbock that can more than stand up to the strong flavors of an accompanying spirit. To balance out the beer’s hefty ABV (nearly 8%), Flamenbaum chose a zesty aperitif, Cocchi Americano. “A lot of people put fruit in hefeweizens, but if you just drink this spirit with them instead, you’re going to get that flavor you’re looking for,” he says. Kurland says it drinks like a high-ABV shandy.
Porter + Dark Rum
“Porters are dryer than stouts,” Kurland says. “They don’t need as much hops and bitterness to cut through all the roast. I wanted to go with something that had a decent amount of body, so I went with Smuttynose Robust Porter.” Flamenbaum paired it with a dark rum, Rum Zacapa 23 year. “You don’t get any sugar from the porter, instead you get it from a spirit distilled from sugar cane,” Flamenbaum says. “It’s just awesome.” For a dessert-like experience, take a sip of the beer and chase it with a sip of the rum for a mellow, sweet finish. Or, cut the sweetness of the rum with a sip of the drying beer.
Sour + Vodka
The category of sour beers encompasses many styles, from sweet to dry to fruity to almost salty. For his pick, Kurland chose kriek beer, a style many are familiar with, thanks to the strong availability of Lindemans. In place of the low-ABV grocery store staple, he went for Boon’s Kriek Mariage Parfait, which is aged with cherries. “It has a complex dry finish,” he says. “You’re not left with something overly sweet but a mint-forward acidity that’s a lot of fun.” For its match, Flamenbaum chose vodka—but not just any vodka. “My current favorite vodka is Ventura Spirits’ California Vodka,” he says. “It’s not a flavored vodka, but it’s distilled from strawberries, which makes it a full-bodied, easy-to-drink spirit with super-subtle fruit notes.” In this case, the vodka takes on the flavor of the beer, but gives the whole experience more body and heft. Like the gin shot, this should also be served at room temperature.
Cheap Beer + Rye Whiskey
It’s the ultimate dive bar duo: cheap beer and cheap whiskey. For this, our friends picked two classics: Miller High Life (from the bottle, natch) and Rittenhouse rye. “This was easy because it’s one we do a lot,” Kurland says. While it might seem like simple muscle memory, there is thought behind the pairing. “If the Rittenhouse gets too hot for you, you take a sip of beer and you’re good to go,” Flamenbaum says. Yes you are, sir. Yes you are.