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Pairing Whiskey with Beer

New Annals of Craft Collaboration (Issue 22)
Jameson's Caskmates Whiskey Aged in Stout Barrels
Jameson's Caskmates Whiskey Aged in Stout Barrels

The combination of drinking whiskey by the shot and chasing it with beer is known as a boilermaker, a process that generally is like throwing a haymaker to one’s head. It’s a method more familiar to the 1960s and B-movies than the current era, if only because whiskey and beer are so much better these days.

Yet, if you stop to consider that both whiskey and beer are made from malt, it can make sense to put them together again, precisely because the quality of each continues to improve with innovation. So I decided to give some thought to pairing whiskey and beer in the same three ways that one would pair food and beer. In other words, choose beers whose flavors are either complementary to the whiskey, a contrast to the whiskey or that refresh the palate.

The results were quite surprising.

Given the ruminative qualities of whiskey, which have inspired many an artist and writer, one might hope this pairing revelation initially resulted from intuitive thinking, if not drinking. Alas, I must confess that it was while working on a story about Caskmates made by Jameson Irish Whiskey that the idea occurred.Jameson Caskmates Old Rasputin Whiskey Beer

Caskmates is aged in barrels that previously held an Irish stout and prior to that, these same barrels were used to age Jameson Original. The Caskmates whiskey is highlighted by notes of cocoa with a hint of hops – which came from using the same aging barrels used by Franciscan Well of Cork, Ireland to make its Jameson Stout.

In the company’s media release about Caskmates, this mild-mannered suggestion was included: “With the subtle suggestion of hops in every sip, it also makes a perfect accompaniment to stout beer.”

Initially, I went to a Guinness stout as a pairing – in part because the Franciscan Well Jameson Stout is not available yet in the U.S. Alas, the Guinness pairing made me long for something richer.

So the journey began. At one of my favorite beer emporiums I bought a four-pack of Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing Company, a truly rich Russian Imperial Stout. I also picked up a bottle of Taddy Porter by Samuel Smith’s as well as a six-pack of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Unfiltered Wheat. Once at the counter, I confessed that my selections were all whiskey chasers. “Oh, you’re going to have a merry holiday season,” was the reply. The pairing idea already seemed to be gaining traction.

Once at home by the fireplace (where there was no fire due to this year’s mild winter), my glass held two fingers of Caskmates and standing nearby was a pour of Old Rasputin, impenetrably black and topped by a creamy tan head. If straight whiskey invariably has a dry, hot finish, it quickly began to make real sense to follow it with the wetness and coolness of beer. And then start over. Soon the fire was roaring.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Ingram

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