How to Pair Whisky and Beer

How to pair whisky and beer | The Dram Team

With all the hot weather the UK has been having lately (hello August!), we’ve been very thirsty over at the Dram Team office. And that’s got us thinking about something ice cold, crisp and refreshing, our other barley-based beverage of choice: beer. Whisky and beer go hand in hand, not only because whisky starts off life in much the same way that beer does (i.e. from fermented grains). The flavours of certain beers can pair really well or contrast some of our favourite whiskeys, and that can make for a really interesting whisky tasting experience.

Boilermakers, or a simple pairing of whisky and beer, are much more popular in the US than they are here in the UK. Some people drink them separately, taking a sip of each in turn. Others drop their whisky shot into the beer. We love having a refreshing beer alongside our whisky tasting lineups, as it can also help cleanse the palate in between whiskies. However you prefer to drink them, pay attention to the pairings you’re choosing. Switching your lager for an IPA might bring all sorts of different nuances to the whisky you’re tasting. A great boilermaker means in every sip you can taste something new and interesting in the whisky or beer. It enhances and amplifies flavours you might not notice otherwise.

So, how can you create a really great whisky and beer pairing at home?

We asked some industry experts what they think makes the perfect boilermaker. Here’s what they said.

How to pair whisky and beer

Abi Clephane, Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich

There are many reasons why I love the boilermaker, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the word boilermaker and more to do with the old Scottish tradition of the ‘hauf an a hauf’ which is essentially the same thing. Hauf an a hauf is the (some might say) slightly waning culture of the older generation having a half pint and a whisky and drinking them side by side slowly throughout the day. Nowadays for me it is just really one the most enjoyable ways to enjoy a dram when in pub. There’s something quite therapeutic about the whole ritual, and it also lengthens out your whisky experience making it last that wee bit longer. I am always one for eeking out a bevy!

Generally if I’m having a hauf an hauf I’m a kinda basic old school gal, and will have Tennent’s or Guinness depending on the dram. Something lighter and more floral like Classic Laddie paired with something like Tennent’s is great and it’s just cold, fizzy deliciousness with not too much opposing flavour for the dram. I would choose Guinness or maybe Belhaven Best for something a bit punchier, like Port Charlotte MRC 01 or the new Port Charlotte OLC:01 which has some beautiful oloroso casks… They have a bit of a deeper flavour and that creamy texture that I like with stronger whiskies.

Follow Abi for Bruichladdich news and Scottish life at @abi_bruichlassie.

Callum Rixson, Manager and General Whisky Bloke, The Hideout, Bath

Whisky and beer is a hell of a match (especially after a long shift), whether you call it a boilermaker, a hauf and hauf, or a can and a dram. There are some epic pairings out there. I always tend to go with something that either contradicts or compliments. A couple of go to’s: 

Something on the sweeter grain whisky side like Hedonism by Compass Box, with a sour beer like Tiny Rebel Frabuzi. And sometimes you can’t beat a classic Balvenie 17 year and a good old English ale. But to be honest if I’ve got a beer and a whisky in front of me, I’m a happy man.

Find Callum on social at @gb_bartender and his whisky podcast, Barley and Beats.

Paul Hletko, Founder of F.E.W. Spirits, Chicago, US

A perfect boilermaker is complementary flavors with the intensity of the whiskey playing with the cold crisp beer to elevate each. It’s a simple combination with part of the joy being the experiment. Love FEW Bourbon with Goose Island IPA! And I’m a shot AND a beer boilermaker guy, not a shot IN the beer guy.

Follow Paul at @paulmhletko and keep up with the bourbon and rye distillery at @fewspirits.

Bulleit 10 year Bourbon and stout makes a great whisky and beer pairing
Bulleit 10 year Bourbon and stout makes a great whisky and beer pairing. Image from bulleit.com

Jenna Ba, New to World Brands Global Brand Ambassador, Diageo

I really enjoy a crisp rye whiskey (like Bulleit Rye) at room temperature, with a clean bitterness IPA (Citra IPA) on the side. I end up with this prodigious aftertaste of green jalapeno, with grapefruit zing. There are 2 ways to heap that up and go on flavour tangents. One is to express a small grapefruit coin on the rye whiskey, another one is to add a dash of Picon Bierre to the IPA, or when you want a flavour smack and if bitterness fulfils you, do both!

This may enchant you! Guinness, coffee ice cream, bourbon (especially tasty with Bulleit 10 as it’s more oaky). Because the beauty of boilermaker is that it’s mine and yours and everyone to freestyle. The boilermaker can be low ABV, works with tepache, kvass, kombucha. The Boilermaker is a territory of opportunities, of unexpected players to meet each other and become a temporary or permanent couple.

See more of Jenna’s delicious drink ideas at @cityzenjen.

Thom Solberg, Head Bartender, Little Bat, London

I normally look for what’s going to contrast well rather than what’s a good pair. Spicy rye whiskey, I really like to pair with a medium dry cider as the contrast really compliments the whiskey. Something a little softer like a bourbon goes extremely well with American style pale ales or IDA’S (India Dark Ales). Fruit driven and hoppy really heightens the flavour of the whiskey for me and they work so well in tandem. I also love to talk about it in flavour terms rather than brands – for me, knowing what flavour I want out of it helps me find a great match everytime I drink a boilermaker rather than having to look for my favourite brands.

Thom can be found mixing up great whisky cocktails at @thom_solberg.

The Dram Team’s pick:

If you really want to go full flavour throttle, try a malty, high-strength Belgian beer like La Chouffe or Delirium with a cask-strength sherry-aged Scotch. Careful though, it’s not for the faint of heart!

Try some whisky and beer pairings

Next time you taste some whisky, we recommend having a couple of different beers on the side and see what differences you pick up. We reckon one of our whisky tasting boxes is a great way to taste different beer and whisky pairings. Grab one for yourself and join the club today.

Or, give a gift to the whisky lover in your life.

We also write regular emails to our members, which is the best way to stay informed on upcoming subscription boxes, plus loads of other must-read whisky info. You can get on the list by signing up here.

Check out some of our other whisky pairing guides:

How to pair whisky and food

How to pair whisky and chocolate

Logo for The Dram Team, a scotch whisky monthly subscription box