A shot and a beer. Very few drinking experiences can be simpler, and potentially more satisfying, than this pair. Ask a craft bartender what he or she drinks when off the clock, and more often than not, this is it. That could be why the combo is coming back into vogue, as cocktail enthusiasts turn away from the frou-frou concoctions calling for eight, ten, twelve ingredients that have been popular in recent years.
But the humble shot and a beer also comes in an astonishing variety of flavors, thanks to the cornucopia of spirits and brews available. We turned to a set of top bartenders and other booze experts around the country for some of their favorites.
James E. Pepper 1776 Rye Whiskey & Bitburger Pils
Canon in Seattle claims the largest selection of spirits in the Western Hemisphere, and its extensive menu includes a “booze & bubbles” section with eight clever combinations ranging from Chartreuse and cava to this take on the classic Boilermaker. “I’m a big fan of that rye,” says Canon owner Jamie Boudreau, “and for me, when I have Boilermakers, I want a nice clean beer to cleanse my palate between whiskey sips. Bitburger fits that role nicely.” The all-American rye is lively and spicy, with a good bit of heat thanks to its 100-proof strength, which is cooled down by the German lager’s crisp, dry flavor.
Cynar & Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
What does a bitter, artichoke-based liqueur from Italy have to do with a malty IPA from Michigan? “The Cynar goes low while the Bell’s goes high,” says Colin Shearn, who formerly ran Philadelphia’s Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. and can now be found behind the bar at the new Magnolia House in Pasadena, Calif. “They have a similar malty sweetness, but the earthy flavors of Cynar are both complemented and contrasted by the hoppy flavors of the Bell’s.”
Bols Genever & Boulevard Tank 7
Perhaps the oldest shot-and-a-beer pairing, the kopstootje (Dutch for “headbutt”) marries the malty gin ancestor genever with a pint. Drinks author and expert Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, who wrote Gin: A Global History and (with husband David) the new The 12 Bottle Bar, prefers hers with a sour, complex Belgian-style farmhouse ale or saison like Tank 7. And she recommends it the traditional way: “To do it right,” she says, “fill a tulip-shaped cordial glass to the top with the genever and take the first sip with only your mouth—no hands allowed. Then proceed with sipping beer and genever as usual!”
El Dorado 8 Rum & Bell’s Porter
Trust a guy who runs a “proto-tiki” watering hole to come up with a rum-and-beer pairing. Nick Detrich, bar manager at Cane & Table in New Orleans, finds himself drinking winter favorite porter with the funky El Dorado 8 from Guyana after his shifts. “It’s not cold in NOLA yet, but I want it to be!” He says. “The ED 8 and porter combo is really nice, especially if it’s a maltier and less bitter porter” like Bell’s, which has a creamy texture and rich chocolate notes.
Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky & Schlitz
A shot and a beer certainly has a blue-collar feel, and this low-cost combo embraces that to the fullest. “Dads love it!” says Jared Sadoian, bartender at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass., as well as Kirkland Tap & Trotter in nearby Somerville, which offers the pair for just $6. “Strong followed by refreshing: It’s simple, yet effective. Two old-school products come together in a cool way.”
Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit & Anchor Porter
Jacob Grier might be the best person in America to recommend an aquavit and beer combo. The Portland-based bartender and writer founded the annual Aquavit Week celebration of the Scandinavian liquor and penned the forthcoming Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer. “On a cold night, I think it’s hard to beat a shot of un-aged aquavit straight from the freezer, paired with a rich, dark beer that’s not too hoppy,” he says. The dark and sweet Anchor Porter makes a rich backdrop for Minnesota’s Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit, fragrant with its namesake herb as well as caraway and juniper.
Cabeza Tequila & Tecate
Legendary barmen Erick Castro & Don Lee have embraced the shot-and-beer concept at their new Manhattan spot Boilermaker—just look at the name, along with the six different pairings on the menu. This one, which they’ve dubbed the Machete in Space, goes south of the border. “There is just something about cerveza and tequila paired together that is truly a timeless combination,” Castro says. “The light acidity and crisp finish of the Tecate pairs wonderfully with the spicy citrus and toasted coriander notes in the tequila. “
Few Bourbon & Furthermore Three Feet Deep Irish Stout
Chicago’s Fountainhead has a staggering collection of beers—more than 250—and whiskies—more than 600—on offer. Owner Aaron Zacharias loves to pair whiskey and beer, of course, but he says to steer clear of high-gravity and overly hoppy brews. “Irish stouts are one of the classic pairings,” he says. “The dry roasted malts bring the fruit out of the whiskey.” His choices go local, with a Southern Wisconsin beer and a Northern Illinois bourbon. The deeply roasty, subtly smoky Three Feet Deep emphasizes the sweet cherry and vanilla spice notes in the whiskey.