Beyond the Pickleback

Our chap behind the stick looks at the Irish category
By Ryan Chetiyawardana
Given the heritage to Irish whiskey, it would seem likely there would be a wealth of cocktails that followed alongside. However, there are few cocktails that Irish whiskey can claim as its own. Many that specifically call for Irish whiskey in the mix are simple variations on other Whisky cocktails that are merely using the spirit generically and substituting it (and often giving it a clichéd name), without any regard for the differences of the spirits. That said, it is a very different drink making a Manhattan with a Irish whiskey rather than an American or a Bourbon.

It could be argued (and I don't wish to get into politics) that Irish whiskey was the forebear of barley spirits but there is no doubting that at one point it was certainly the whiskey of choice in the UK. It quickly fell from this position though, and it has been battling hard to regain a foothold.

It has only been through a tremendous amount of hard work that it has found new support in bartenders and new whiskey drinking consumers.

One of the interesting aspects for me is the change that occurred in the late 18th century that spurred the use of unmalted barley in the mix. A minor difference on the surface, but one that creates a whole path of difference from its whisk(e)y brethren. Irish whiskey still employs the range of variables as Scotch (and other countries) in that it uses several different casks - including different sizes, origins and finishes - and also different stills, different configurations, peat and different grain bills in the case of blends, but all of this is matched with the option of this affecting malted, or unmalted distillate.

I'll admit to being cynical about the category in my youth, but there was really very little conversation about the products. For something with such history, it is great to see this being turned around. What's also exciting about the category is the amount of investment of late.

Partly this means getting word of the great spirits out to people; more Jameson's and ginger is a great thing, and something every pub and bar can serve - and something even the most poorly prepared home bar can prepare. Even the Pickleback - the shot of Jameson's served with an accompanying serve of brine - hopefully gets people bolstering the category. But more exciting is the rejuvenation of the distilleries in Ireland.

New distilleries, new marques, and reinvestment in existing brands is seeing a new lease of life being brought into the category. We are seeing more products reach us, and we're seeing more innovation from the producers. This also means distributors are bringing more from the Emerald Isle; The Whisky Exchange's single cask bottling from Midleton Distillery was absolutely exceptional.

So how to best mix this exciting category? As with any cocktail, my suggestion is to always play to the idiosyncrasies of the base spirit. Although there are similarities shared by whiskeys within the category, it is best to treat each one individually and play out the nuances that are unique to it, and showcase the other characteristics that open out with dilution and supporting flavours. Serves such as the Irish coffee have a certain nostalgia, and a comfort associated with them, but there are many other ways to enjoy these fine drams that better suit their delicacy.

One of the characteristics I've been enjoying hugely across the whiskeys is the fruitiness. It's something quite unique, especially when matched with the nutty green notes of the pure pot style drams.

There's also a softness to the whiskeys that's very different to the sweetness of American Whiskies and the intensity of Scotch. This is no bad thing, but means a certainly delicacy must be employed to retain all the fruits, and to preserve this softness.

The cocktails

Dead Rabbit's Bankers Punch


  • 30ml Redbreast 12yo

  • 30ml Goslings Black Seal Rum

  • 30ml Grahams LBV Port Wine

  • 20ml fresh lime juice

  • 20ml Raspberry cordial

  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Add ice and shake vigorously. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass and finish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Mo Power Mo Honey


  • 1 cube of pineapple

  • 30ml clementine juice

  • 3 dashes Aphrodite bitters

  • 10ml apple blossom honey water Pinch of salt

  • 60ml Power’s John Lane

Muddle pineapple in bottom of a shaker, add other ingredients, shake hard and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass with one cube of ice.

Yellow Spotted Boulevard


  • 35ml Yellow Spot

  • 15ml Aperol

  • 15ml Lager Syrup *

  • 2 dashes orange bitters

* Whisk 200g sugar into a pint of good quality lager.
Stir all over ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with cubed ice and garnish with a grapefruit twist.