No, Virginia. A Boilermaker is not the same thing as a Depth Charge.

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I get questions all the time. Out in the wilds, online, and email all serve as platforms for people to ask me questions. What I love most about questions from readers is that 9 times out of 10, the reader went up online and searched. Sadly, said reader was unable to come to a satisfactory, results-driven conclusion from the Interwebs. And the true old-fashioned bar argument here covered, when searched for, returns results that are teeming with contradictory asides.

Hey BoozeGuru,

Out drinking last night, a buddy ordered a Boilermaker (Anchor Steam & Four Roses Small Batch). When the two glasses arrived, he dumped the bourbon into the beer. I commented that he turned the Boilermaker into a Depth Charge. He said that he hadn’t; that dumping in the whiskey but not the shot glass into the beer had kept it a Boilermaker.

Who is right?

Well my dear reader, in this instance, it happens that you’re both wrong!

First, let’s clear up the whole “dropping the shot glass into the beer glass” thing.
When you drop the shot of whiskey into the beer, glass and all, this is generically called a “Drop Shot,” or alternatively a “Bomb.” Drops and Bombs are nearly interchangeable terms, but the Depth Charge is different cocktail; a variation if you will. A Depth Charge is created by dropping a shot glass of Peppermint Schnapps into at least 12 ounces of Lager or Pilsner. Believe it or not, the Depth Charge is its own specific cocktail. Regardless, when the shot glass and its contents are dropped into the beer, it’s a Drop Shot.

Secondly, a Boilermaker, by definition is a shot of whiskey in its own glass and a half-pint to a pint of beer in its own glass. The correct way to consume the Boilermaker, traditionally, is to drink the entire shot of whiskey, then drink the beer.

THAT is a Boilermaker.

BOILERMAKER cocktail menu february 2015

Now to the crux of our issue: if you pour your whiskey into the beer, but don’t drop the shot glass in, this is NOT a Boilermaker. (Eron’s note: Personally, I’ve done this. It’s tasty. And there’s no shot glass sloshing around in your beer or bumping you in the nose.)

In Mittie Hellmich’s oft-quoted 2006 book “The Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails” the entry for the “Boilermaker” makes absolutely NO reference to pouring the whiskey into the beer sans shot glass. It does mention dropping the shot glass of whiskey into the beer glass as a variation. However, since this variation is a cocktail of its own with its own name (the previously defined Drop Shot), it is no longer a variation. Much like the Lemon Drop is no longer simply a Martini variation and the Chapel Hill is no longer just a Sidecar variation; they are their own drinks.

So what is it called when you pour the whiskey into the beer?

It’s called a personal preference.

-Cheers!