Writer-barman-spirits guy Andrew Bohrer is here to turn the Guinness-swilling amateur hour that is St. Patrick’s Day into a learning experience.
St. Paddy’s Day: If you must celebrate to the edge of death, survival isn’t necessarily a matter of drinking less; just spread it out more.
It’s not a holiday unless it’s a drinking holiday. This is why Arbor Day never caught on. For me, St. Patrick’s Day has nothing to do with anything. I’m just as much Irish (even though St. Patrick was Welsh) as any other American of European descent, and fossil records show that there has never been a snake in Ireland. However, rather than being the ass that tells you why all holidays are shams, I’d rather be your irresponsible uncle who teaches you about drinking.
Whiskey is the most important dram on St. Patrick’s Day. Hell, the Irish monks invented the stuff. It was originally called uisce beatha, their words for water of life, and I assume that these monks were creating some sort of skull-splitting schwag back in the 12th century. This concoction wouldn’t be anything like what you drink today, but it would work in a pinch.
Other than the fact that it must be made in Ireland and aged in wooden casks, modern Irish whiskey is a very broadly defined category. It must be at least three years old, but that is about it for the rules. Traditionally, most Irish whiskies were triple pot–distilled mix malted barley and un-malted barley, resulting in a lighter version of the spirit that we so love abusing. But the fastest-growing Irish whiskey in America is column-distilled and made from corn and wheat. It is also the brand that Jenna Jameson named herself after.
To me, Irish whiskey is a lunchtime whiskey. It’s generally lighter-bodied, so it pairs well with food and helps you get through the midday doldrums. And that is my suggestion on how to enjoy St Patrick’s Day: five lunches. A Saturday night at the pub will cost you over $150 in cabs, beers, a round of shots, and a cream cheese hot dog. Instead try having different Irish whiskies with lunch at five different pubs throughout the week. It will be more enjoyable for you and the pub owners. Don’t like whiskey? I bet you can Irish up your afternoon coffee a bit.
This is a great week to grow your whiskey palate. It is easy and safe to do a flight of whiskies you know, but here are a few new ones to try:
It’s baby soft. This is an independently owned blended whisky aged in ex-bourbon casks that has the gentle sweetness and vanilla you’d associate with dessert.
Powers and Tullamore Dew
Two solid traditional whiskies that have a touch of sweetness, spice and just enough flavor to stand up to a bit of ice. Both whiskies make bolder, higher-end bottlings that are brilliant.
With the sincerity of a truly awful website, Connemara is a unique Irish whiskey. It is Ireland’s only peated single malt (like scotch) and is the perfect balance of smoke and smooth.
How to locate a bar to try these? A true Irish pub has more whiskey than flavored vodka and more Irish whiskey than just Bushmill’s and Jameson. Listen for Shane MacGowan mumble-singing or the Clancy Brothers on the stereo. A proper pub will likely have a chalkboard with the words "hash" or "mash" written on it somewhere. And the best Irish pubs, don’t even advertise themselves as such, preferring to disguise themselves as other venues. They are bars that are happy to see you in off-hours, where you can talk with strangers, the menu is bereft of, "tini’s," and there’s likely a place to play darts. These places should look like a fake Starbucks with pints instead of laptops.
How do I know all of this? I have a tattoo across my stomach in gothic script that reads, "PUB LIFE," ‘cause that’s how I roll (disclaimer: that is not actually how I roll). Despite what alluring advertisements of green-clad busty lassies would tell you, St. Patrick’s Day is about pub life more than anything else. And pub life is something that the Irish do very well. Get a wool sweater, head to the pub, have two pints and a packet of crisps (as they say) and relax: That’s pub life. Perhaps there is an authentic pub experience in getting puked on and head-butted on March 17, but it would be much more authentic to have a pint and a dram on with friends that you don’t see enough.