Lately, I’ve seen a bunch of bars putting beer and shot combinations on their menus that break the tradition of “our cheapest beer and a shot from the rail.” People love the simplicity of a beer and shot, but frankly the college MO of drinking fast and cheap just isn’t that becoming. “Even in the lowliest dive bar these days, there’s an unwritten code: don’t be that guy,” says Jimmy Palumbo, bartender at New York City’s Up & Up. “It’s not attractive, it never was, and since the beer and shot isn’t going anywhere the only place it can go is up, leaving that guy behind.”
The combination of a shot and a beer is classic for many reasons, mostly because of how simple it is. “Historically, I think you can make a case that it’s the working-man’s order—something rugged enough to take the edge off a hard day and simple enough that it doesn’t require much thought,” says Palumbo. “After all, the last thing you want to embark upon after a shift is some existential quest to find the cocktail that speaks to you.” At the end of a long day, you don’t want anybody to speak. “Most likely you just want people to shut the hell up. This is that order.”
2016 is the year the shot and beer gets elevated to a new level. How is this going to get done? Sophistication. The pairings are getting more attuned to a savvy drinker. This means better spirits, more esoteric spirits, single-malts and obscure amaros being combined with better beers and ciders. “The public opinion for the longest time was to drink and party like you never aged a day past twenty-one,” Palumbo says, adding that the goal was to make sure you weren’t going to be like your parents. “But these days people are living their lives and having all their fun in their late-twenties and thirties, and nobody wants to drink like it’s rush week at the frat house because that just isn’t cool anymore.”
Palumbo has already seen people calling for beer and shot combinations on their own without it being a special, and he expects that to continue in 2016. “I doubt you’ll ever see the pairing on a ‘specials’ menu, but I sit down after my shifts and drink a Highland Park 12 year with a Stiegl lager almost every time. It’s easy and it takes zero thought to order because it’s exactly what I want to sip on.”
At The Up & Up, there is a section on the menu called ‘shift drinks’ where they feature the staff favorite, the “Aquastiegl,” a boilermaker of Brennevin Aquavit and Stiegl Goldbrau. “I started drinking them when we opened up and it’s been a staff tradition ever since,” Palumbo says.
A number of other high-end combinations work as well. “A really nice Tequila or Mezcal with a nice pilsner, or a rare bourbon with a hearty American IPA for those red-blooded types,” says Palumbo. He often reaches for Highland Park Dark Origins with a nice strong imperial stout. “Brooklyn Brewery makes a mean one. It’s not for the timid. Both the Dark Origins and the beer are going to pack a punch above the standard alcohol content, but for me, if the spirit pairs well it all tastes smooth, so there’s no harm no foul.” He adds, “Just be safe and remember to keep your butt in the chair.”