Call it a boilermaker, call it a beer back, or simply call it a shot of whiskey and a beer — whatever the case, there are few things better than this iconic, dynamic duo on a chilly day. But picking the right whiskey and beer combination isn’t as simple as randomly picking one of each. It depends on a few things. Is the beer or the whiskey more important to you? If it’s the beer, then you need to first decide what beer you want to imbibe before picking a whiskey that will complement said beer.
“When you’re ordering a shot and a beer with a quality bourbon or other whiskey, you need a quality beer,” says Nick Purdy, president and founder of Wild Heaven Beer in Atlanta. “But should you go big to hold up to the bourbon? Or light to counterbalance it?”
Since there’s a science to finding the right beer and whiskey combinations, we went to the professionals for help. We asked a few well-known craft beer experts and brewers to tell us the best beers to pair with whiskeys. Keep scrolling to see all of their choices.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Michael Ng, USBG bartender at Behind The Glass Bartending in Los Angeles
Average Price: $13 for a 16.9-ounce bottle
One of the best beers to pair with a glass of bourbon is Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island Beer Co. Here’s why this combination is exceptional and what flavors make it great: Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) is a legendary imperial stout that is aged in bourbon barrels. This beer is a natural choice to pair with bourbon because it shares some key flavor elements with its whiskey counterpart. What makes BCBS great for this pairing is its intense and complex flavor profile.
When you take a sip of this stout, you’ll be met with bold and rich notes of roasted malt, chocolate, caramel, and coffee. These flavors are further elevated by the aging process in bourbon barrels, which impart hints of oak, vanilla, and a subtle bourbon sweetness. The interplay between the beer’s inherent complexity and the bourbon barrel aging creates a symphony of flavors that complement each other beautifully.
When you take a sip of BCBS alongside a glass of bourbon, the combination is magical. The beer’s robust and roasted characteristics harmonize with the caramel and vanilla notes from the bourbon. The result is a pairing that enhances the best qualities of both, creating a sensory experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Nick Purdy, president and founder of Wild Heaven Beer in Atlanta
Average Price: $10 for a six-pack
On the bolder side, I’d suggest a malty but not too dark beer (the roasty notes of a porter or stout would do well vs. a scotch, less so with a bourbon) – an ESB is a perfect match. This style isn’t currently prevalent around the craft scene. Check around for any extra special bitters on store shelves and try it. Or get the classic Fuller’s ESB from England.
Biscuit-like malts, caramel, orange peel, honey, light hops, and a dry finish make it a perfect companion for your favorite whiskey.
Adam Lukey, head brewer at Eventide Brewing in Atlanta
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
My choice for an ideal autumn boilermaker would be a Lagunitas IPA and a shot of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Forget the combo of well whiskey and a macro lager, the boilermaker is making a comeback due to the plethora of craft beers available to the discerning two-fisted drinker.
Lagunitas IPA is highly balanced and super drinkable which pairs excellently with Basil Hayden’s notes of pepper, charred oak, and vanilla.
Breakside Life Barleywine
Chad Henderson, head brewer and co-owner at NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina
Average Price: $7 for a 22-ounce bottle
Breakside Brewing’s Life Barleywine epitomizes the ideal barleywine-style ale for me. A glass of bourbon would perfectly accentuate the nuances of this strong ale.
Its exceptional balance boasts a rich malt profile without any overpowering caramel or sweetness. It’s a wonderful complement to the sweet corn, vanilla, and oak flavor of a well-made bourbon.
Union Craft Blackwing Lager
Fal Allen, brewmaster at Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville, California
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
When it comes to pairing beer and bourbon, I want to taste the bourbon, I want something a little roasty to pair up with the charred oak barrel flavors in the whiskey, but not an overwhelming beer. I want the bourbon up front for a lingering enjoyment and then have a light roasty beer to clean the palate up for the next sip For that I love a good Schwartz bier or clean crisp dark lager. One of my favorites is Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewery’s Blackwing Lager.
It is nicely bready, with hints of rye bread and toasted nuts, with a hint of light roasty coffee, and a hint (just a hint) of smokiness. First the bourbon – wait – and then the dark lager finish.
Faircraft Brauhaus Iron Hearth Rauchbier
Matt James, brewmaster at Genesee Brewing Company in Rochester, New York
Average Price: Limited Availability
Faircraft Brauhaus Iron Hearth Rauchbier pairs well with bourbon. I know this because I’ve done it. This smoky beer and a sweet, complex bourbon are a perfect match, especially on a cool fall evening.
Iron Hearth has a perfect level of smokiness that doesn’t completely overpower you. That same smokiness lends itself well to a nicely aged bourbon.
Neshaminy Creek Warehouse Lager
George Hummel, grain master at My Local Brew Works in Philadelphia
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
When having a beer back, I like a lighter beer with a flavor profile that will lurk in the background. Neshaminy Creek Warehouse Lager is described as a “Mexican-style Lager that has a clean, grainy malt character with a subtle sweetness and a crisp, dry finish with a whisper of German noble hops.” And brewer Jason Ranck and crew have really nailed it.
It slides down easily because their restrained use of adjunct grains keeps the brew from smelling like a bowl of creamed corn, like the actual Mexican lagers. It pairs well with complex, flavorful bourbons.
Odell 90 Shilling
Garth Beyer, certified Cicerone and owner of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, Wisconsin
Average Price: $10 for a six-pack
Odell Brewing Co’s 90 Shilling pairs perfectly with a glass of bourbon. If you go beyond flavor, 90 Shilling has a rich history for Odell and that’s something that may not impact flavor but impacts the experience of having it with something as time-tested as bourbon.
It’s smooth and medium-bodied, and the crystal malts in it give it a nice touch of sweetness to counter the burn of the bourbon while at the same time emphasizing caramel notes across both beverages.
DSSOLVR Thank You For Existing Kolsch
Brent Manning, co-founder of Riverbend Malt House in Asheville
Average Price: $10 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
A great bottled-in-bind bourbon delivers a nice mix of toffee, caramel, and cinnamon spice along with some oaky tannins. That can be a lot for your palate to process. I look to a nice Helles-style Lager or Thank You For Existing Kölsch from DSSOLVR for a bit of relief.
The malty backbone, delicate hopping, and crisp carbonation provide the perfect balance of flavors and help prepare you for another sip of whiskey.
Genesee Cream Ale
Ryan Pachmayer, head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub and Restaurant in Arvada, Colorado
Average Price: $11 for a 12-pack
Genesee Cream Ale is a good one here. I like something just good enough to drink on its own, without fighting with the bourbon. A fresh Genesee is pretty tasty, and it won’t distract from the wonderful flavors of a good bourbon.
Gently creamy and sweet with notes of cereal grains, corn, light malts, and gentle hops, it’s a great beer to pair with your whiskey of choice.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
Travis Sprague, USBG bartender at Reunion Wine and Bar in Spring Hill, Tennessee
Average Price: $13 for a four-pack
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Instead of a stout like many barrel-aged beers, this is an Irish red ale that’s rested in decanted bourbon barrels for a minimum of six weeks. This results in a complex ale with notes of vanilla, oak, caramel, and sweet bourbon.
The oak flavor imparted through the aging process really creates a smooth and well-balanced flavor profile that pairs well with good bourbon.