Like any cocktail nerd, interested in where all these vintage and forgotten cocktails most people have never heard of, came from, I’m scouring through my modest collection of old cocktail books, looking for what I thought would be a plethora of drinks based on Irish whiskey. I’m a little dismayed then, to find that there are actually very few, especially of the sort that might sound as familiar as, say, the Manhattan, Gibson and their iconic brethren.
After all, wasn’t it that small island that kicked off this whole whiskey business anyway? Irish whiskey was the darling of the American public’s taste for whiskey right through the 19th century, up until that silly nonsense we called the ‘Noble Experiment’ reared its ugly head and ultimately failed.
We saw fabulous drinks such as the Tipperary come to fruition; the Cameron’s Kick, first mentioned in Harry MacElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, is a jewel of a drink that has the strange addition of a little Scotch (ssh!), lemon and orgeat syrup. And I would be remiss not to at least mention the Irish Coffee, that velvet elixir that just warms the soul.
A quick look at what Google has to say about Irish whiskey cocktails and you’ll be led to a mix of drinks whose names stretch from the clichéd to the downright comical: the Angry Irishman, the Blarney Stone, the Leprechaun, the Shamrock #2 or my personal favourite, the Plenty O’Toole.
You will also find the Irish Blackthorn, a very respectable drink that turns up at the turn of the 20th century in Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual.
Right now, decent bartenders would argue that we’re in the grip of an Irish whiskey boom. Led by juggernaut Jameson (most often served short and neat and thrown back without any pomp or ceremony), there’s an ever growing slew of wonderful Irish expressions continuing to enter the market, and by extension, the bartender’s quiver. Many of the lighter styles, with their distinct lack of smoke, make for excellent cocktail mixing, especially for that (perhaps) novice whiskey drinker that might need a little coddling.
These are extremely versatile whiskies that sure, might be the foundation for the ubiquitous Hot Toddy or Irish Coffee at any airport lounge or ‘Irish pub’ the world over, but they can also mix with a dizzying array of other flavours. From fruity and floral vermouths and liqueurs to the more complex bitters and amaros, there are few ingredients that won’t find a life partner in a great light bodied whisky such as Power’s, Green Spot, Knappogue, Tyrconnell and of course Jameson.
Then there are also those pot still delights such as Bushmills, Redbreast (15 Years Old, yes please!) or Connemara with its lovely and unusual peaty notes, all of which could easily anchor an Old Fashioned or Manhattan-style concoction with aplomb.
I asked a few bartenders their thoughts on the whiskey renaissance and all are about as excited as the distillers.
“I think the recent rise of Irish whiskey cocktails owes a lot to the fact that most of them are light and easy to work with”, says Jeffrey Morgenthaler, working out of Portland’s Clyde Common restaurant. “But what I really think we owe a debt of gratitude to is the fact that there are so many more delicious options out there now than there were, say, 10 years ago. I don’t know about you, but all I remember were Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew. Now I’ve got a shelf full at work, and a cabinet full at home”.
Max La Rocca, the jovial Italian now tending bar at the Boutique Bar inside Barcelona’s Ohla Hotel, spent time living and working in Ireland where he became infatuated with the country’s many different expressions. He says:“Irish whiskies are a very interesting cocktail base and by being triple distilled, hence wonderfully smooth, they are a very nice way to get non-whisky drinkers to start exploring this beautiful world”.
Morgenthaler has long been a promoter of Irish whiskies in cocktails. His Irish Goodbye has been on and off his menu for years and one that he describes as “an awesome food pairing drink”.INGREDIENTS
- 30ml John Powers
- 30ml Lillet Blanc
- 30ml Cynar
Stir with ice and strain into a frozen Coupe.GARNISH
A lemon twist.
Sam Ross, an Australian who has made a big name for himself at New York’s famed modern speakeasy Milk & Honey, says: “I’m not a huge fan of the lighter style continuous-still Irish whiskies as I don’t find they stand up in any sort of a cocktail, short of a Highball. The Redbreast, however, is a different kettle of fish. Huge and robust in all its pot still glory, it drinks somewhere between a hearty Single Malt and a well matured rye”. Here he adapts into his version of the Tipperary Cocktail, which as he adds “stands tall as the doyen of the Irish/stirred cocktail category”.INGREDIENTS
- 45ml Redbreast
- 20ml Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
- 20ml Green Chartreuse
- 2 dash orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a Coupe.GARNISH
A lemon twist.
“The Mermaid refers to the statue of the little Mermaid in Copenhagen which is where this great cherry liqueur comes from. When I created this drink, the bar I was working at, was very famous for afternoon tea, so I wanted to start selling cocktails during those hours too and decided to throw this drink right at the customer’s table with a crystal teapot so that people would get curious about cocktails. After a few months, that’s what happened!”INGREDIENTS
- 35ml Jameson
- 10ml Cherry Heering
- 10ml Aperol
- 5ml orgeat syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.GARNISH
An orange twist and brandied black cherries.