In order to talk about the Wild Eyed Rose and why you’ve probably never heard of it, I think we should first talk about what a pickleback is.
In case you’ve never had the pleasure, let me describe it to you: First, pour a shot of alcohol, usually Irish whiskey. Then open a jar of pickles, but instead of grabbing one, you use a few fingers to hold the pickles while you pour out the liquid – that cloudy, silty middle, the sweet vinegar brine, the things you’d throw away without think for a second once the pickles are gone, in another shot glass. Take the glass of alcohol and follow it immediately with a glass of this “pickle-back”, which is so incredibly intense on your palate that it disguises the so-called “burn” of alcohol, while erasing the most of the taste.
We talk about pickles because that’s still how a significant percentage of Irish whiskey is served in this country. While whiskeys like bourbon and rye have an almost endless catalog of classic cocktails to keep them in good company, for Irish whiskey there has always been a bewildering absence of classic apps. There’s Irish Coffee, of course, and some lesser-known things like Tipperary and Cameron’s Kick, but beyond that the rolodex runs out pretty quickly and Irish whiskey finds itself either chasing after other spirits in simple substitutions like the “Irish Mule” (a Moscow Mule with Irish whiskey) or share a stage with something flabby like ginger ale.
“Although there are few classic cocktails that specifically call out Irish whiskey, it is an extremely mixable spirit in all its forms,” writes Jillian Vose in Paddy Drinks: Modern Irish Whiskey Cocktails. Vose is the managing partner of The Dead Rabbit in Manhattan, one of the country’s most famous cocktail bars, and with co-owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, they released last month Rice drinks as a kind of defense of Irish whiskey. As if to bolster his claim above, they offer “classic” Irish whiskey cocktails – all six of them – and their original Irish whiskey cocktails, of which there are almost 100.
The Wild Eyed Rose is one of the precious classic rare. The cocktail comes to us, like so many other greats, from Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Mixed Drink Recipes and the recipe most of us use is more or less the same as his – a healthy dose of Irish whiskey, with lime juice and grenadine (pomegranate syrup) to sweeten it up. It is much less famous than its sister cocktail the Jack Rose (an otherwise identical mix with apple brandy substituted for Irish whiskey, invented around the same time) but I personally think it is better, and not just because my last name is O’Bryan.
One of the reasons why Irish whiskey is currently overlooked for cocktails is that it’s traditionally light and sweet, but the sweetness is a strength of its own – subtle flavors that would be annihilated by the explosive oak of anything. something like bourbon are allowed to express their full self. In the Wild Eyed Rose, the voluptuous acidity of grenadine runs through the entire palate, supported by the warm, light malt of Irish whiskey and kissed by lime juice on the finish. It’s a lovely deep red, almost certainly the inspiration for the name, and a welcome relief from the neon green beer that St. Patrick’s Day has become famous for. And if all you know about Irish whiskey is taking a shot of it followed by a shot of something that’s basically cucumber embalming liquid, well, maybe it’s the rose what you expected.
wild eyed rose
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for eight to 10 seconds, then strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass or strain upwards into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime, a few pomegranate seeds, or even nothing at all.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Irish whiskey: Vose offers this generally concise assessment in his introductory chapter of Paddy drinks: “There was a time when people would have you believe that whiskey is whiskey is whiskey. These people were wrong, wrong, wrong. Indeed, if there was one thesis for the whole book, it would be that there is incredible diversity within Irish whiskey, and that different bottlings have different strengths and weaknesses.
The Wild Eyed Rose is an object lesson in this. Too light a mark and the whiskey disappears – not bad, sure, and still worth doing, but not quite right. Too full and the malt takes over – an example here is the still Redbreast, which I like more than the cheaper Jameson in all applications but this one. The sweet spot is a blended Irish whiskey that remains light, but with enough presence to make it interesting – my favorites I tried were Power’s and the brand new Dublin Mercantile Blending Co whiskeys, but our old friends Bushmill’s, Tullamore DEW and even Jameson all work fine.
Grenadine: Grenadine is pomegranate syrup. This can be done as easily as buying POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and mixing it in equal parts with sugar and stirring until the sugar dissolves. If you want to use a juicer to squeeze your own pomegranates, the flavor will be fresh, not pasteurized or oxidized, and will taste much better, but strictly speaking this is not required. In addition, very good grenadines have a floral aspect – for each cup of pomegranate juice, you can add half a teaspoon of rose or orange blossom water, which is excellent but not strictly necessary.
You can also buy grenadine online or at many specialty stores. My perennial recommendations are Small Hands Foods, Liber & Co., or Liquid Alchemist, if you can get hold of them. Stay away from Rose’s or anything overly processed. It was all we had 20 years ago, but there are no excuses today.
Lime juice: It’s almost a rule that lemon, not lime, goes best with whiskey cocktails, but that’s an exception – lime, it turns out, is much more dynamic here than lemon. Eh.