• Boilermaker Magazine | January/February 2015
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    January/February 2015

Why is whiskey with a beer chaser called a Boilermaker?

Nobody knows. At least, nobody we can find.

Many workers relax after work with a shot of whiskey followed by a beer chaser, often called a beer and a shot or one-and-one. This drink only becomes a boilermaker if the drinker drops the shot of whiskey into the mug of beer and downs the entire drink with one long draw, not lifting his (or her) lips from the mug until it's all gone.

Boilermakers are usually reserved for celebrations. If you're tempted to try one to celebrate your Labor Day, we warn you: identify your designated driver now.

How this drink came to be named after the workers who build and repair boilers is unknown. The Oxford English Dictionary, widely regarded as the foremost authority on word origins, says the term "boilermaker" was first used to refer to the craftsmen who built and maintained steam locomotives in 1834.

By that time, steam engines had been around for several decades, steam ships were regularly plying the oceans, railroad companies had begun redrawing the face of the North American continent, and, according to some etymologists (word historians), the term "boilermaker" was already being used to describe the drink.

Could the drink have carried the name before the craftsperson did? That seems unlikely, but the development of a language is not always logical.

Perhaps the origin of the drink's name comes in some way from Richard Trevithick, an inventive Cornish blacksmith who was an early experimenter with steam-propelled vehicles. In 1801, on Christmas night in the Cornwall village of Cambourne, he set out to test his latest invention, a steam-propelled road vehicle.

Trevithick's vehicle succeeded in climbing the hill into the village carrying the inventor and some of his friends. When they reached a pub at the top of the hill, they parked the vehicle in a shed and went inside to celebrate their success in holiday season style.

As the celebration continued, everyone forgot about the fire in the vehicle's boiler. It continued to burn until the water ran dry. When the party was over, they discovered that the wooden structural members had caught fire and the vehicle was reduced to a mass of tangled scrap.

See what I mean about that designated driver?

Whatever the origins of its name, a Boilermaker is a strong drink that gets a party off to a good start, but can get the best of you before you know it if you're not careful.

Come to think of it, that's like a lot of the Boilermakers I know. Maybe that's the connection between the names.

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