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For some, it’s the shot first, then the glass. Others start with the glass and then knock the chaser. And still others combine the steps, plopping the shot straight into the pint glass (Irish Car Bomb, anyone?)
Tom Bulleit and Tom Porter don’t much care which way you chose to drink your boilermaker. They’d just like to encourage you to mix it by pairing their respective signature bourbon and beer together.
“There’s no wrong way,” says Porter, the brewmaster of Arena, Wisconsin’s Lake Louie Brewery. “All of them work.” (For the record, Porter likes to start with the beer and cleanse with the bourbon, sipping both slowly.)
Over the winter, Porter, an affable former engineer who quit his job to start a brewery, began a partnership with Bulleit, an equally affable former lawyer who quit his practice to found the Kentucky-based Bulleit Distilling Co. using his family’s bourbon recipe. The collaboration was actually a stoke of happenstance. Bulleit Bourbon and Lake Louie share a common local distributor — Frank Beverages — and Tom Porter happened to be going in a door at the same time that a Frank rep was coming out. The Toms quickly discovered their shared entrepreneurial sense — both have built successful regional brands out of humble beginnings — and their enduring love of a drink originally created by thirsty miners in Montana.
Porter brewed up a pair of specialty beers — a Baltic porter (Winter’s Mistress) and a ginger-hibiscus Scotch ale (Ginger Hipster) — designed specifically to mesh with the full-bodied, rye and oaky flavor of Bulleit’s award-winning bourbon. The bad news? The two special beers Porter created were limited runs. Although if you’re lucky, you may still be able to find the Baltic Porter at a few select locations in Madison. The good news? Turns out Bulleit’s bourbon also pairs perfectly with Lake Louie’s malt-happy scotch ale, which you can find in plenty of Madison bars.
“The boilermaker is really a malt-based pairing,” says Porter. “That’s where it has to start.”
Bulleit’s ties to the boilermaker date back to his father, who used to enjoy a daily highball, whether coming home from work or spending the day fishing. Bulleit calls it an “occasion” drink.
“You create your own occasion,” he says. Porter can totally relate. “What’s my occasion? When I can get my rubber boots off and get into my house,” he jokes.
This first round of beer-and-bourbon pairing is just the first part of the partnership between the Toms. Bulleit, who’s busily planning bartender tasting events and focus groups in Madison, calls it “the most synergistic approach we’ve ever taken.” Porter, meanwhile, is already thinking about the next round of beer pairings he can brew.
“I’m not averse to experimenting to play with the bourbon,” he says. “We’re trying to create flavors that go from the front to the rear of the palate.”