The Boilermaker cocktail is one of the strangest cocktails, because it is in many instances just a shot of whiskey with beer as a chaser. However, many times the drinker can ask to have the whiskey poured directly into the beer, and only in this combination it can safely borrow the name of cocktail. In certain parts of the world it is simply called a shot and a beer, and the bartender knows exactly what you are referring to.
The origins of the Boilermaker cocktail are unknown, but we can follow the etymology of the word “boilermaker” to try to find out more about it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term referred to the craftsmen who built steam locomotives as back as 1834. By that year steam locomotives and engines had been patented for some time, so the term either appeared soon after or immediately. Yet there are also sources claiming that this drink combination existed as well, and it was called using the name Boilermaker.
There is a very interesting story that could be closely related to the whiskey and beer being named Boilermaker cocktail together. Apparently, an already reputed blacksmith from Cornwall started experimenting with steam-propelled engines. His name was Richard Trevithick, and on the night of Christmas in 1801 he took to the streets in his steam-propelled vehicle to test it out. The trial was successful, as Trevithick’s vehicle managed to climb a hill; in order to celebrate this victory, Trevithick and his passengers stopped at the nearest pub and started drinking, but they forgot to put out the fire in the boiler.
When all the water in the tank evaporated, the vehicle caught fire and all the wooden parts were consumed, leaving only a heap of scrap behind. This memorable event in Cornish life could have led to naming the whiskey and chaser Boilermaker cocktail. There are several ways to consume the Boilermaker; one way is to drink the whiskey in one go and then sip the beer, or to pour the whiskey in the beer mug; some prefer to simply drop the shot in the mug and call it a depth charge, while others just pour the shot into a bottle of beer.
The Boilermaker cocktail is also a very popular cultural reference, and it features in many television series and movies. Buddy Love, the main character played by Jerry Lewis in the 1963 Nutty Professor movie orders a boilermaker; the drink also appears in the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. In the 2006 box-office movie The Departed, Jack Nicholson’s character takes a shot of whiskey and chases it with Budweiser, and Erik Selvig orders two Boilermakers in the 2011 movie Thor. In literature, the drink is mentioned in Thomas Pynchon’s novel V. and in James Welch’s novel Winter in the Blood.