Monday, December 09, 2013

The Advil Calendar 2013: TOIL AND TROUBLE Second Monday of Advil Edition

I have two words for you on this day of work, my cousins and neighbors and co-workers and imaginary Internet friends and sisters-in-law... just two words.



Of all the things I don't know a goddamn thing about - and you wouldn't know it to talk to me, especially if you had let me have one of these already, but there are actually more than a few subjects I don't know a tinker's tit about - I'm as blind as a Nim of the Mephidross Swamp when it comes to boilermakers and what makes them good and why they work. (Also, the children are playing Magic: The Gathering again and it's making me crazy.)

I don't even know why they're called boilermakers.


I will tell you one thing that I know for sure, though - a boilermaker will FUCK YOU UP. Why is that? You can have a shot and a beer, and whatever, you've had a shot and a beer. But you dump a shot IN a beer? And that is IT, baby, one and done, son, be sure you hold onto the railing when you go up to bed.

I wonder if the carbonation in the beer speeds absorption of the alcohol or something? Somebody get me a grad student right away! There's studies to be done!

The bar at Seattle's Speckled and Drake.
The other thing I know for sure is that boilermakers are on the rise. Suddenly, they're showing up on cocktail and beer menus at places that have a real appreciation for craft beer and the weird shit at the back of your parents' liquor cabinet. Maggie's Farm, right around the corner from us, suggests adding a shot of Averno or Cherry Heering to any of their lighter beers. The craftsmen behind the bar at W.C. Harlan are friggin' boilermaker chemists.

Places that make their own bitters and infusions, places that find the small-batch ryes and locally-sourced whiskies are also likely to be featuring beer and liquor pairings nowadays. You almost hate to make a cocktail with such lovingly crafted hooch, so finding a beer that sets it off seems to be a popular option.

San Francisco is crazy for the boilermaker. It's like the in-the-know thing to ask for at Seattle bars these days, with its irresistible hipster combo of blue-collar cachet and connoisseur particulars. Speckled and Drake (too cool to have a website) keeps a chalkboard over the bar devoted to delightful "booze over beer" combos. Austin? Are you kidding me? Menus in Austin feature "housemade Twinkies" - it is the land of the mod squad boilermaker.

Jason Wilson, the author of Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits (on my wish list), wrote a suspiciously well-researched article that you should read on beer-and-a-shot combos for the Washington Post. He discovers that white ale goes with pisco, Spaten goes with tequila, and Leffe Blonde is divine with bourbon.

The Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston makes some thing with lager syrup and a macerated cherry and the bourbon poured into half an eggshell and balanced on top. And then has the balls to call it the Rooster Cogburn.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe John Motherfucking Wayne played Rooster Cogburn, and John Wayne would rather wear a church hat and sing "Mandy" while playing the spoons than drink bourbon out of a goddamn eggshell.

The cocktail menu at that joint made my eyes go like THIS. There are Filipino jellies, bittered ice cubes, a Grappa infused with rue - I think my ears just popped - but also heirloom cocktails like the Widow's Kiss and the Saratoga Brace Up. Maybe I could get along there.

By the way, I have always understood a boilermaker to be a shot of something dropped into, or poured into, a glass of beer. However, I have also heard the classic one-and-one combo of a beer and a shot described as a boilermaker. Me, I would call that a beer and a shot. I wouldn't give a thing a new name until it actually was a new thing. WORDS, people. We have rules for them.

Here's a seasonally-appropriate piece of adorable apocrypha I found on the website of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers that may explain the name:

Trevithick's high pressure stationary
engine No. 14, c 1805, detail view.
Image #10306296, Science Museum /
Science & Society Picture Library
"Perhaps the origin of the drink's name comes in some way from Richard Trevithick, an inventive Cornish blacksmith who was an early experimenter with steam-propelled vehicles. In 1801, on Christmas night in the Cornwall village of Cambourne, he set out to test his latest invention, a steam-propelled road vehicle.
Trevithick's vehicle succeeded in climbing the hill into the village carrying the inventor and some of his friends. When they reached a pub at the top of the hill, they parked the vehicle in a shed and went inside to celebrate their success in holiday season style.
As the celebration continued, everyone forgot about the fire in the vehicle's boiler. It continued to burn until the water ran dry. When the party was over, they discovered that the wooden structural members had caught fire and the vehicle was reduced to a mass of tangled scrap."
At this point the Brotherhood writer emphasizes the importance of designating a driver. Pretty witty for a union guy.

Anyway. We are talking cocktails here, and so I'm sticking with the definition I approve of. Of which I... fuck it. The important preposition in this post is "into." We're talking about booze going INTO beer. And not by dropping a shot glass into - that's called a "depth charge" and that kind of silliness ends in beer geysers and chipped incisors. And inadvertent rhymes!

Some of these combos will blow your mind. There is whiskey, to be sure, but also rum, tequila, gin - just about everything except vodka. The beer takes the burn out of the liquor so that the taste of the booze comes forward - and in almost every case, the liquor and beer flavors blend to make something so delicious your eyes will roll right back into your head.

Thieves Tavern Winter Boilermaker (San Francisco)Anchor Porter
Stagg bourbon

El Jimador (Good Company, Brooklyn)
The New Englander
Presidente beer
chile-infused El Jimador tequila

The New Englander (Tooker Alley, Brooklyn)
Geary's Pale Ale
Berkshire Mountain Distiller's corn whiskey

Jason Wilson's Chartreuse Discovery (Washington, D.C.)
Ayinger Hefe-Weizen
green Chartreuse

The Kopstoot (Hog & Rocks, San Francisco)
Pilsner Urquell
Bols genever
This combo is apparently very well-known in the Low Countries (it means "head-butt" in Dutch), and is now making itself known here. The Dutch way of drinking it is to fill a small glass with beer and a bitty tulip glass to the very brim with genever. Then you bend your head to the tulip glass and slurp up a generous sip of genever, followed by a drink of beer.
I would say something supercilious here about how the Dutch started out kind of owning the world and now they're just in one little soaking-wet corner of Europe, and it couldn't possibly be due to dumb drinking traditions like this but hey. Everybody has their ups and downs.

Also from Hog & Rocks
Goose Island Honkers Ale
Four Roses bourbon

Bob's Applesmack (our living room)
Knuckleduster IPA
Laird's applejack

You Sure Look Sexy in that Park Service Uniform Boilermaker (my kitchen)
Ranger IPA
Cherry Heering
This one in particular makes a gorgeous head - it looks like a root beer float - and is unbelievably delicious.
Punt e Pint (also my kitchen)
Lagunitas Pils (but seriously just about any beer will do)
Punt e Mes
This is the best thing I have ever drunk ever and I wish I were not out of Punt e Mes RIGHT NOW.

Harlan is just so damn lovely.
SIDEBAR: Amo, amas, amat, AMARO
Baltimore speakeasy W.C. Harlan has a soft spot for Amaro. They must have half a dozen brands behind the bar, and they'll serve you up a flight. Amaro is a potent, highly flavored, intensely fragrant digestive bitter. While the name translates to "sour" or "bitter," it is just as often darkly sweet as well.

Perhaps the best-known amaro is Fernet-Branca, which has a cough syrup taste that is hard to get past. I would suggest spicy, woody, slightly citrusy Averna, which is also fairly easy to find, instead. Then check the after-dinner drinks list next time you eat out at an Italian restaurant and play the field.

Last time we were at Harlan, they made my husband a boilermaker with Amaro Ramazotti, which is a bit chocolatey and coffee-ish, and a dark holiday beer whose name I can't remember (possibly Breckinridge Brewery Vanilla Porter?). Because boilermaker alchemy is astounding, that thing actually tasted like bitter chocolate beer and that sounds terrible but it wasn't.

Cynar is an Amaro, and years ago I was told that workmen in Alsace routinely added it to their light Alsatian ales. Some recipes add a glug of lemon syrup, but I've never found that necessary - we've tried Cynar in beer around here and it is HEAVEN.

Lastly - a boilermaker might save your night someday.
Let's say you are in... anywhere. Indianapolis. You're in Indianapolis for a convention. You and your fellow librarians just want to get together and trade war stories and have some laughs. You need somewhere that can accommodate a big group, and you need it to be close by. And you know what that means - some damn sports bar.

And that damn sports bar is not going to have the patience to make your Negroni, the expertise to make your Ramos Gin Fizz, the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice to make your Greyhound, or a single bottle of Michter's rye.

At that point, you could do a lot worse for yourself than asking for a Budweiser (or a Sam Adams or a Stella) and a shot of Maker's Mark. Dump that puppy right in, and you've got something good to drink in a shitty bar. Especially if that sports bar is in the convention hotel and all you have to do is stagger to the elevator.

Happy Monday. You're one and done, remember? Still gotta get to work tomorrow. But let's end on a pleasant, anticipatory note! Tomorrow's Tuesday and I think it's just about time for some hot drinks, don't you? Hot bowls of hooch, yes!