Having a beer with a shot on the side is a great way to get started on an evening of drinking. It’s the total package of alcohol in just two glasses, the heat and power of the whiskey acting as the yang to the beer’s cool, refreshing yin. While there’s no question that the combination is potent, I’ve always seen it done in a mellow context. The lone publishing assistant popping into the local on the way home, reading a manuscript at the bar as the sun’s last rays filter through the windows. The long-suffering cubicle mates who desperately need a bonding session, but don’t have time for a proper bender. Looking to get trashed? That’s what Jägerbombs are for. This is about easing into the evening. As for the beer and shot, the whiskey tends to vary, but the beer is almost always PBR. Well, the refined palates of Ireland’s Jameson distillery think the combination is in need of an upgrade, and I agree. They came up with a few alternatives, which pair Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve ($35) against a selection of today’s most interesting beers. I tried them all, and added my own as well. Here’s how it worked out.
Pairing 1: Jameson Black Barrel with Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Oak Aged Beer
I just wrote about this beer, which brings together Scotland and Ireland in one bottle. The beer’s a Scottish stout, but it’s matured in oak barrels that previously held Irish whiskey, so the flavors are already married. The pairing is a smooth ride, with the woody spice of the whiskey mixing with the vanilla maltiness of the beer. It feels very appropriate, like cousins meeting at a family reunion.
Pairing 2: Jameson Black Barrel with Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout
I’m a fan of everything that comes from the Brooklyn Brewery, and their Dry Irish Stout is one of my favorites. It’s also extremely well-named: If you like the chewy darkness of a stout like Guinness or Murphy’s but wish they’d tone down the sweet edge, it’s for you. When you pair it with the Jameson Black Barrel, you get a meeting of extremes. Usually the shot comes before the beer, but in this case I like sipping the beer first, then the whiskey. It’s a dry, chalky start with a sweet caramel finish. I love the contrast. Of all the pairings on this page, these are the two farthest apart, like going from a cold pool to a steam room. The flavors start muted and then build to an explosion. Tick tick tick tick boom.
Pairing 3: Jameson Black Barrel and Sixpoint 3Beans
This pairing feels tropical, and seems to hold the promise of the wildest party. The slight banana note of the whiskey mixes with the coffee flavor of the beer, making you want to get up and move. It’s a dance floor filler.
Pairing 4: Jameson Black Barrel and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro
As opposed to the Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout, this pairing is as close together as beer and whisky get. It’s perfect harmony, tasting almost the same no matter the order in which you consume it. Each makes the other go down easier. The aroma’s amazing too, like two different types of fine leather. Classy.
Pairing 5: Jameson Black Barrel and Captain Lawrence St. Vincent’s Dubbel Belgian-Style Abbey Ale
This is my contribution to the pairing game, and I’m happy with how it turned out. Abbey ales tend to have an elevated alcohol content and sharp flavor profile, and in this case they work well with the whiskey. The herbaciousness of the beer melds to the bite of the whiskey, making it extra thinky. The combination of the cloviness and fruit notes of the beer with the smokey caramel experience of the whiskey gives it an almost Asian feeling. There’s an exoticism to this pairing. It might not work for the after-work sports bar crowd, but foodies and drinkies into experimenting will find a lot going on. This ought to be on the drinks menu at Spice Market.