Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass
Stir with large ice and strain into a coupe
* * *
You often hear about the luck of the Irish. When it comes to cocktails, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In our “12 Rounds With…” feature, we ask the question “If you could replace any one bottle with another, what switch would you make?” Both of our first two interviewees (Ted Haigh and another to be coming later this month) set their sights on the Redbreast. Haigh offered, “I would regretfully replace the Irish whiskey because though I love it, as a cocktail ingredient it is rare.” Indeed, on our own Drinks Menu page, it has proven to be one of the most under-utilized spirits. Given how much I love Redbreast and the superlative Whiskey Sour which it makes, I decided to set out and prove everybody wrong. Surely, there were enough undiscovered Irish Whiskey cocktails (or Scotch whiskey cocktails, because in many cases we can substitute) out there, just waiting for us to find them. Turns out… not so much.
A bit part of the problem may have to do with luck, because if you’ve tasted the Redbreast, it certainly isn’t an issue with flavor. Irish Whiskey is known for its smooth sweetness — so much so that the lighter, more-popular examples, such as Jameson, can easily get lost in complex cocktails. In my book, the boldness of Redbreast overcomes this obstacle. In fact, up through much of the 1800’s Irish Whiskey was the world’s most popular whiskey. So, what happened? Luck – or lack thereof.
First, here’s a quick timeline of cocktails in America: In 1862, Jerry Thomas pens and publishes the world’s first bartender’s guide. The idea catches on, and bartenders around the country begin to follow suit. Prohibition is enacted in 1920 and continues through 1933. World War II begins in 1939, with the Americans being formally pulled into the fight in 1941. The war ends in 1945. Beginning in the 1950’s, Vodka creeps into the American market and begins the stranglehold it continues to have to this day.
Around 1830, the Irish were sitting pretty, at least when it came to whiskey production and export. In the decade prior, the number of producers had doubled — having a noticeable affect on unemployment figures and farming revenue — and production was singing along at 8.7 million proof gallons (how such things were measured) per year. Now, let’s overlay the luck of the Irish during “cocktail age” given above. Around 1840 (Jerry Thomas was ten years old), a strong temperance movement began to take hold in Ireland. Then, in 1845, the Great Famine struck the island, leaving the next seven years marked by incredible starvation and emigration. Although whiskey production fell to around 6 m.p.g. by 1840 (holding steady through to 1850), the distillers themselves were hard hit, their numbers falling from a high of eighty-six to fifty-one by 1850. A rise in excise duty in 1853 fueled the decline further, as did the mass emigration (by 1911, the population of Ireland dropped to nearly half of its pre-Famine level, from 8 million to 4.4 million). Come 1870, there were only twenty-two distillers left in Ireland. By the time Jerry Thomas wrote his book, Irish Whiskey was all but gasping for its last breath.
At the tale end of the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century, however, luck appeared to finally on the side of the Irish. Phylloxera destroyed the French Cognac crops, opening up renewed opportunity for Irish spirits. Taking a look at the output of Tullamore distillery over this period gives us a pretty good idea of how things were playing out across the nation. From 1910 to 1916, Tullamore’s production doubled, from 50,000 p.g. to 100,000 p.g. In 1919-1920, it doubled again to 200,000 p.g. Things were indeed looking up. Cue the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War, American Prohibition, ever-increasing spirit duties — which had risen from 11s in 1909 to 72s in 1920 — and the loss of many British markets for Irish Republic whiskey. By 1925, Tullamore had ceased production; many of its contemporaries closed for good. In 1919, Irish distillers were using one-third of the available Irish barley crop; by 1930, this number had fallen to 5%.
Also key to the puzzle was the Irish distillers’ insistence upon clinging to the more flavorful but less productive pot still. When markets opened up again, the Irish couldn’t keep up with their Scottish neighbors, who had embraced the continuous still. Sure, luck had been against them, but when it did provide a moment of opportunity (switching to continuous distillation), the Irish rejected it. I, for one, am glad they did.
By association, Irish Whiskey cocktails have suffered as well. Most examples found in the cocktail tomes of yore are variations on the major drink types — Sours, Daisies, Fixes, Fizzes, Smashes, Slings, Toddies — or, as is the case with the Paddy, the Manhattan. If you happen to have some Sweet Vermouth, a dash of Angostura Bitters, and some spirits you can make: a Manhattan (Rye), a Rob Roy (Scotch), or a Paddy (Irish Whiskey), as well as some others we’ll ignore for the moment. Of course, in the naming of the drink, luck was also seemingly against the Irish. The Manhattan is named for one of the greatest cities (okay, boroughs) on the planet. Robert Roy MacGregor is a Scottish folk hero. The Irish get the “Paddy”?
The name shouldn’t stand in your way, however, as the Paddy more than rises to the occasion. If you’re an Irish Whiskey lover and you’re looking for something beyond the Sour, this may be your next drink. The sweetness of the whiskey really pairs nicely with the Vermouth. Where some people are put off by the perceived strength of a Manhattan, the Paddy is, in my opinion, a softer, more balanced drink.
So, come on, Irish. With the Sour, the Crow, and the Paddy in your corner, maybe it’s time to forget about luck and reclaim your place at the top of the whiskey market. At least, it’s time to get people to start thinking of you beyond green novelty drinks called the Leprechaun. You’re better than that — the Paddy proves it.
Esoterica: Truth be told, there are other recipes for a Leprechaun which are tolerable. I linked to one of the worst. An unexpected bit of fun were the “other users who liked Leprechaun loved these cocktails too” links on the recipe page for the Leprechaun, which suggests the “Lesbian” and the “Leprechaun Orgasm “. The latter comes with the note that it “really excites the girls ;)”. Sigh.