Drinking Culture

The Psychology of a Shot and a Beer

Beer back. Boilermaker. Whatever you call it, it's what people want to drink after work.

By Allecia Vermillion March 28, 2013

Photo allaboutgeorge/Flickr.

 When I ask the men and women who make some of the best, most artful drinks in the city what they want to consume at the end of a shift, the overwhelming answer is a shot and a beer. And you know what—I just didn’t get it. 

I like beer. A lot. I don’t really like shots, but I’ll certainly do them when circumstances align—in a moment of bonding, to gird against a painful high school alumni event, or if someone puts three of them on a giant wooden ski and brandishes it in my general direction.

So I went to a man who I figured would have some answers. Justin Martinsen opened Speckled and Drake in the former Living Room space on Olive Way at the start of the year. He’s from Seattle but also owns a Brooklyn bar called duckduck. And at that bar, people are all about shots and a beer. So much so that Speckled’s drink menu is dedicated to combinations like Eric the Red (a red ale and aquavit), or the Horny Woodsman, an offering of Rainier and Woodford. 

“I like to take the whole thing and get to my beer,” says Martinsen, though he says plenty of his customers sip their shots. Irish whiskey is a favorite because it's so gentle, but obviously nicer-quality shots merit sipping. The most popular combo at Speckled and Drake is the Fisherman’s Friend—a pint of Oly and a shot of well whiskey. 

There are nights that call for the complex beauties being crafted down the hill at Vessel (editor's note: Vessel has since closed), or across the street at Knee High Stocking Company. Then there are the ends of long workdays or service shifts. These are the moments when you might want the warmth and release that comes with a stiff pull of booze, but also the mellow groove of just sipping your beer. In combining the two, says Martinsen, “You’re expediting that process.” 

This I get.

The origins of the shot and a beer are woefully murky. They’re also called boilermakers, though the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers has an official statement on its website saying nobody knows why this is. The pickle back is a cousin of this concept. So, I guess, is the Irish car bomb subset of dropping a shot in your beer.

Drinkers can obviously walk into any bar and request a shot and a beer back. But I'm seeing more combos like Martinsen's on menus around Seattle. These days I imagine the appeal is partly rooted in the hipster embrace of the blue collar (all the social signals of ordering a PBR but none of the cliche!) as well as a palate-soothing counterbalance to a good cocktail. Martinsen says creating good pairings is a highly unscientific process consisting of trial and error and the simple question of "What kind of shot would I want with this beer?"

Again, any bar in town can fix you up. But here are a few spots that take some pride in their shot and beer combos.  (Updated 4/2016)

Bait Shop
From 11 to close, a shot of Fernet (of course) or Jameson along with a cold Rainier tallboy can be yours for the low price of $7. 

Bitterroot BBQ
The $8 "Ballardmaker" combines whiskey with a half-pint of beer...bartender's choice. 

Brave Horse Tavern
In addition to rotating specials, a Boilermaker section of the drinks menu includes pairings like smokey Xicaru Mescal with pineapple cider, Buffalo Trace and Rainier (the BHT special), and—oh my—Fireball and Elemental hard cider. The BHT is $8.50 during happy hour. 

Speckled and Drake
The chalkboard hanging over the bar is dedicated to BOB, aka "booze over beer." Martinsen says coming up with the goofy names for his shot-and-a-beer combos (hello, Horny Woodsman) is just as fun as drinking them. 

Around here they're called "drop shots" and the offerings (cotton candy vodka dropped in a cherry energy drink) are exactly what you would expect. 

Any Bar. Anywhere.

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