Less than two generations ago it was routine for hard-working Ohioans to file out of the factory and drive to their neighborhood hangout for a beer and a shot – sometimes in the same glass. This concoction was called a boilermaker and is regaining traction. Long gone are the days when boilermakers were a shot of whatever dropped into your light lager. Today’s gastro-pubs and upscale cocktail stops have more to offer customers pursuing this vestige of the Industrial Age’s attitude adjustment hour. Here’s a cross-section of places to get a better boilermaker in the Buckeye State:
Beach Club Bistro (BCB) Bartender Timmy Delaney once told me, “We’re [Cleveland] more of a beer and a shot kind of a town.” I was munching on my scrumptious Wildwood Club pizza smothered with pesto sauce, spinach, mushrooms, bacon, Asiago and Provolone at one of our favorite gastro-pubs in Euclid. I’d made the mistake of asking Delaney if he considered himself a “mixologist” – the term for bartenders who know how to make cocktails from scratch. Euclid is a prime example of a post-industrial town. Once humming with factories, most families who live there now want to be near Lake Erie and close to downtown.
Delaney says he doesn’t get much call for boilermakers and believes it’s partly about BCB’s audience (not a lot of college kids nor millenials) and about the cost of today’s premium craft beers. BCB is offering 16 locally-made craft beers on tap during their “Cleveland Area Brewery Tap Takeout” event this month and their customers have refined whiskey palates. They are more likely to order craft beer with their meal followed by a bourbon or rye (BCB has 130 selections). That said, Delaney suggests boilermaker fans order a beer with lower alcohol and subtle flavors. “These will pair up great with most any whiskey and probably should be done after a meal.”
Cincinnati’s Molly Wellman, arguably the cocktail empress of the Queen City, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Wellman is the owner of several hotspots including Japp’s, Myrtle’s Punch House, Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and is the nationally known author of Handcrafted Cocktails: The Mixologist’s Guide to Classic Drinks for Morning, Noon & Night. Wellman says if a customer wants a post-industrial boilermaker, she might offer a Founders Breakfast Stout with a pour of Kraken Dark Rum. “It’s a delicious combination,” she says. For nostalgic Cincinnatians Wellman would pour a Little Kings Cream Ale with a shot of J.T.S. Brown or Old Forester bourbon. With Kentucky just across the river it’s the neighborly thing to do.
Columbus has plenty of retro establishments delighted to serve its legions of legal-age students a traditional boilermaker. It seems the beer and shot cognoscenti head to The Tree Bar, “a cozy bar at the intersection of two alleyways.” Ask for a Vuch – named for a favorite regular – but no one would tell us what’s in it. For a complete time warp, go to Dick’s Den where you might just get a shot of Crown Royal in your Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The next time you transition from your workday, order a boilermaker and see what your neighborhood bartender – or mixologist – will concoct.