I love them. And here in the United States, on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll do my best not to get in there.
American Irish pubs are becoming different beasts during the holidays announcing the holy snake charmer of the Emerald Isle, and the easing of covid restrictions may make this year’s celebrations particularly rowdy. While it’s nice to see other humans again, my post-quarantine brain isn’t yet ready for the onslaught of drinks that shouldn’t be green, in the hands of shamrock and pixie scalloped people, all beating drinks and pretend brogues and occasionally squirting excess Guinness from their mouths.
I’m a good Irishman myself, but celebrating anything – whether it’s a saint, an inheritance or the return of the lower half of people’s faces – with bad drinks in large quantities just don’t like it. My head is still spinning from a pitch I had this month, the one that stated that St. Patrick’s Day is “not just an excuse to drink, it’s an excuse to drink MANY!” before suggesting a drink made with tequila and matcha – none of which, for you to count all the points at home, are Irish. (Of course, for the record, neither is St. Patrick.)
I’ll toast home with “Paddy Drinks: The World of Modern Irish Whiskey Cocktails,” the new book from the team at Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, the Dead Rabbit is a top-notch Irish bar on the first floor, with an outstanding craft cocktail lounge hidden above. And the bar’s latest book is the antithesis of the sloppy green booze that dominates this time of year. Instead, it’s full of whiskey drinks that are elegant, precise, often complex, and tailored to the unique qualities of the particular spirits used to make them — drinks that might show green-dyed lager drinkers the Erin of their ways.
The name of the book is a bit ironic, as Dead Rabbit founders Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry explain in their preface. A few years ago, Muldoon and McGarry stopped by Death & Co., another well-known craft cocktail bar in New York City, to check out its new head bartender’s menu. They were surprised to find a specific section dedicated to Irish whiskey drinks.
In New York, the two Irishmen had felt a bit alone in their appreciation of Irish whisky, whose reputation had yet to rebound. They were therefore delighted to discover the “extraordinarily well thought out and well executed cocktails” centered around some of the finest bottles in Ireland. They were less thrilled with the name of this menu section: “Paddy Drinks”. “Paddy” is an old slang term for the Irish, sometimes used affectionately, but often pejoratively. And Muldoon and McGarry feared the term “reflects an attitude that saw no real quality or refinement in drinks”.
But it’s clear that drinks this good weren’t meant to be easily dismissed.
The bartender who composed this menu, Jillian Vose, had realized her own awareness of Irish whiskey. When she took over as head bartender at Death & Co., she had seen a number of new Irish whiskeys available, but encountered resistance to using and stocking them.
It was back then. “We don’t like vodka,” Vose notes: “You have to admit, especially in New York, people were snobby about certain spirits. This was the case with Irish whiskey. That’s how it was.
Based on some of these attitudes in her mentors, she had assumed that the category must not be good. But as she tasted them, especially long-standing brands that had stood the test of time, and learned to trust her palate and her judgment, she realized realized that some of the bottles – and the drinks that could be made with them – were too good not to mention.
Muldoon and McGarry eventually got to know Vose (who is half-Irish) and eventually hired her as head bartender at the Dead Rabbit. All three are co-authors (with Conor Kelly) of “Paddy Drinks”. The title, write Muldoon and McGarry, was their way of revenge for these earlier attitudes towards Irish whisky, “reclaiming Paddy drinks as a category that deserves – no, demands – respect on its own merits. Whiskey we know is gloriously subtle and distinctive, offering a vast panorama of flavors and aromas.
Take the Precision Pilot, for example, where Vose was spinning for a slight variation of Negroni. She opted for Tullamore Dew, a blended whiskey, because she thought it “wouldn’t have too much tannin or too much spice that would be too overpowering.” It has a lot more fruity notes,” she says. “But the pot still and single malt in the blend also give it the body it needs to support the other ingredients.”
Another example of setting up the right whiskey is The Dead Rabbit’s upgrade of a classic called Cameron’s Kick. Redbreast 12, a rich pot-still whiskey, has the weight to stand up to the peated Islay Scotch whiskey it shares the glass with, and its time in sherry casks means the bar adds oloroso (not one of of the 1920s recipe) an inspired twist.
The book contains not only drink recipes, but also explanations of the production processes that make various types of Irish whiskey what they are, and flavor profiles that provide budding mixologists with sound advice for the pairing and mixing.
With a foreword by beverage historian David Wondrich, there’s also insight into the history of the Irish pub in America and how Irish immigrants shaped the way America drinks. Wondrich notes that German immigrants were quicker to appropriate American sophisticated cocktail culture, noting that by the end of the 19th century, “many of America’s most famous mixologists were German immigrants of first or second generation”.
But he argues that some of the Irish bartenders who found themselves behind the bar at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, a highly influential place, helped shape American cocktail traditions by exercising the necessary restraint to weed out some of the more baroque . vintage drinks.
“By pruning some of the most exuberant branches of the cocktail tree in this way, [these Irish American bartenders] might have made it less ornamental,” Wondrich writes, “but they also made it stronger and better suited to last through the harsh winter which, as far as the great American bass tradition is concerned, began in 1920 and never only ended with the 21st century revival cocktail.
“The idea of the Dead Rabbit was to bring the Irish pub into the 21st century, but also to pay homage to the real pubs of Ireland,” says Vose. Here, not a green beer in sight.
Cameron Kick Cocktail
A 1920s cocktail accented with bitters and hazelnut oloroso sherry, this concoction from Jack McGarry and Greg Buda of Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York balances rich Irish pot whiskey with a peated single malt (the bar uses Redbreast 12 and Bowmore 12, respectively).
Or buy: Orgeat is available at select liquor stores and online. The bar recommends orgeat from orgeatworks.com. We used one from Small Hand Foods.
- Ice (cubes for shaking, a large sliver for serving)
- 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce orgeat
- 3/4 ounce oloroso sherry
- 1 ounce peated single malt Scotch whisky, such as Bowmore 12
- 1 ounce potted Irish whiskey, such as Redbreast 12
- Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Place a piece of ice in a large cocktail glass and transfer to the freezer to chill.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add the bitters, lemon juice, orgeat, sherry, Scotch whiskey and Irish whiskey and shake vigorously. Strain twice into the chilled glass, grate a little nutmeg on top and serve.
Here’s a bright, bittersweet Irish whiskey drink from Jillian Vose, head bartender at Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York City. Bitter campari and aromatic grapefruit complement each other. The bar uses Tullamore Dew, a blend of still, malt and grain whiskies.
- Ice cubes for stirring, a large cube or a sphere for the drink
- 2 dashes of Peychaud bitters
- 1/2 ounce grapefruit liqueur, such as Combier Liqueur de Pamplemousse Rose
- 3/4 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce Lillet Rose
- 1 ounce blended Irish whiskey (such as Tullamore Dew Original)
- Strip of grapefruit zest, to squeeze
Add a large ice cube or sphere to an Old Fashioned glass and set aside.
Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add the bitters, grapefruit liqueur, Campari, Lillet Rose and whiskey and stir to cool and dilute. Strain into the glass, then twist the strip of grapefruit zest over the surface of the drink to express the aromatic oils. Discard the skin and serve.
Recipes tested by Mr. Carrie Allan.