It’s a beautiful ritual of drinking: Pop a top, pour a shot and let happiness arrive in double time. The PBR and Jack remains the gold-on-gold standard for the shot and a beer, but bars around the country are going top-shelf and pairing often obscure and artisanal beers and spirits—think Victory Storm King stout and Italian amaro, or Brooklyn Brewery lager and Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, both on offer at New York’s aptly named Boilermaker. To get to the bottom of the boilermaker boom, we spoke with Matt Tocco at Nashville’s Bastion, which serves a drinks menu heavy on smart shot-and-beer pairings. Tocco says it’s the insider drink for weary bartenders tired of making and drinking fancy, time-consuming mixology cocktails. “I think beer and shots resonate well with industry people because they’re often playing catch-up. If you work till 12:30 or one a.m. and last call is at 2:15 or 2:30, you don’t have a lot of time,” he says. “It’s a nice way of facilitating a buzz.” Now that’s a nice and honest answer. Tocco shared three easily executed pairings from the Bastion menu:
The PBR and Beam is an eight-and-a-half-ounce glass of draft PBR and a one-and-a-half-ounce shot of Jim Beam bonded bourbon. Tocco says this is the “classic version of an inexpensive combo that gets right to the point.” For the High Life Meletti and rye, he serves a seven-ounce Miller High Life pony bottle with a one-and-a-half-ounce shot glass filled with equal parts Meletti amaro and Hochstadter’s rye whiskey. This combination of crisp beer and strong but sweet shot is the favorite drink of his discerning staff, Tocco says, but the Mantra Battleground is the most elegant: Mantra Battleground saison is paired with a shot glass filled with equal parts Dolin Génépy des Alpes and Clear Creek pear brandy. Tocco thinks of it as a deconstructed cocktail. “Still, I recommend just dropping the shot into the glass,” he says. And that’s the unpretentious spirit that makes the boilermaker so easy to love.