Beyond The Well and Light Lager: How Tullamore is Trying to Bring Back the Boilermaker With Craft Beer
By Branden Andersen
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“A shot of whiskey with a beer is one of the oldest drinking traditions,” said Jane Maher, a petite blond Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey brand ambassador with a thick Irish accent. “Our grandfathers and great grandfathers in Ireland were drinking this combo at their pubs. It’s part of the drinking culture.”
It’s only natural that Tullamore D.E.W., one of the oldest Irish Whiskey distillers in the world, is fighting to bring back that traditional pairing with modern craft beers.
The “D.E.W. and a Brew” tour, which made its Portland stop at Cascade Brewing in mid-January, aimed to bring awareness to pairing the Tullamore Irish Whiskey portfolio with the wide array of beers available in today’s craft climate. While the history of the boilermaker does not have a defined start, it is traditionally made up of a combination of an American whiskey and an American light lager like Budweiser or Coors. With the craft beer revolution in full swing, the bitterness and complexity of IPAs were initially too much to pair with Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam.
But, give a complex beer — like those from Cascade Brewing — a complex whiskey — like Tullamore D.E.W.’s Special Reserve — and you have a completely different experience.
“Highlighting the two, how the two come together and what they have to bring to each other, that’s what makes this pairing special,” Maher said.
No pairing exemplified how each beverage can improve the other more than the Tullamore D.E.W. 12-Year-Old Special Reserve and Cascade Brewing’s Oblique Black and White Coffee Stout. The caramel, vanilla and wood character from the 12-Year — one of the most-awarded whiskeys in Tullamore D.E.W.’s portfolio — brought out a unique red berry, apricot and overripe mango aroma and flavor from a cold-brewed coffee addition in the light stout.
The team at Cascade Brewing, known for big wood barrel-aged beers, was so impressed with this pairing, they are remaking this beer with Tullamore D.E.W., using whiskey-soaked barrel staves for added character.
“When we were looking to make these pairings, we wanted to look at how they both stand together and how they stand apart,” said Michael Mathis, brewer/cellarman at Cascade, as he presented the brewery’s classic Kriek paired with the rare Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix. The pairing contrasted the bright lactic cherry character of the Kriek with the clean oak and caramel character of the whiskey.
A common theme was brought up through the course of the presentation, similar to the old adage “What grows together, goes together.” During a tour of Cascade Brewing’s Barrel House, Cascade’s brewmaster Ron Gansberg and Tullamore D.E.W. global brand ambassador John Quinn were comparing barley variety, mash temperatures and aging techniques. Pre-distilled whiskey is essentially a clean malt beverage, similar to beer only without the use of hops, using a combination of barley, corn, wheat and rye depending on the region in which it’s created. The distilled liquor is then aged in wooden barrels made with different wood varieties, once again, depending on the region.
The Tullamore ambassadors had plenty of breweries to choose from when looking at Portland for a stop, but chose Cascade over others because they are unique when compared to other breweries on the tour. But more importantly, they have local love and respect.
“[Cascade] is a small, beloved brewery that’s been around for a long time,” Maher said. “We respect that, and love what they’ve been doing.”
The 19 state tour runs through March 15, starting in Southern California and ending in Chicago. The partner breweries are largely small, local operations in the respective state. For more information, visit dewandabrew.com.
I had such an enlightening experience attending the tasting with the teams from Tullamore D.E.W and Cascade that I needed to step out of my reporter perspective and share my personal experience.
I had seen PBRs with bourbon shots around Portland bars here and there, and even tried it myself with well whiskey and a local IPA. For some reason, I could not enjoy the two together, and ended up shooting the whiskey with a couple of gulps of beer — neither as satisfying as if I drank one without the other.
The idea of sour beers with whiskey was increasingly confusing, but as I sat at the Raccoon Lodge with a group of other journalists, ambassadors and industry members, it started to make sense. I took a sip of whiskey “the size of a teardrop” to warm and acclimate the palate, as Jane Maher instructed. Then I took another small sip and let it rest on my tongue to savor the flavors of oak, citrus peel, mulling spice and caramel, letting the alcohol evaporate slightly. After those two sips, I jumped over to Cascade’s Tangerine Dream, a sour with a light, sweet malt backbone that rounded out the whiskey flavors. The bright acidity of the tangerine was enveloped by the spiciness of the whiskey.
It was a sensory dream; an intriguing sip-by-sip experience that I could have continued all day if the alcohol didn’t continue to creep up on me like my newfound fondness of the pairing.
I’ve continued my sensory exploration since my Tullamore D.E.W. experience, and have found many interesting pairings: sweet bourbon with a mulling-spiced snakebite, a smoky and fruity scotch with a balanced IPA, and a rye whiskey with a malt-forward imperial red. It’s been extremely exciting, and I hope you try some yourself.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.