I hate me some St. Patrick’s Day. Besides the green beer, the stupid costumes, and the bullshit posturing of culturally bankrupt American Euromutts, there is the small matter of my upbringing. Yes, I too am Irish (in part—a small irony that Oliver Cromwell is my great uncle roughly 6 generations back), and on that side of the family, St. Patrick’s Day was up there on my granddad’s ever-growing list of “Things I Would Gladly Light On Fire Before Shooting With My Illegal Firearm,” right behind Jimmy Carter, and only above John Kennedy because the CIA got there first. It’s not that he was ashamed of being Irish—far from it—but rather that he was disgusted with the pseudo-Irishness that appeared annually.
To him, raised in a predominantly Irish shantytown in the Bay Area during the Depression, Ireland was a barely civilized Third-World country full of drunks and degenerates that his people fled to embrace their new identities as drunk and degenerate Americans. “It was a grey, dirty shithole full of factories where no one worked, land that no one farmed, and rivers where no one bathed,” he would proclaim, despite having never been to Ireland, “If all these dumb Micks want to go back to Ireland so badly, I’ll get a wheelbarrow and load ‘em on the ship myself.” It was my granddad’s view, not uncommon among immigrant children of his generation, that one must renounce one’s ethnic heritage upon arriving here, and despite retaining a good deal of the traditions and customs that he was raised with, he considered himself an American first. It was also my granddad’s view that the local hot dog stand was harboring Communist sympathizers in their kitchen, which caused a particularly alarming armed standoff one afternoon after one too many Screwdrivers when I was a kid, but that’s a different story.
I don’t share his views on issues of ethnic identity, but I see what my grandfather was getting at. It was probably insulting on some level to have endured the suffering and subsequent cultural alienation of leaving your home country for another, not entirely hospitable one, only to be mocked once a year by having every dumb peckerwood with a leprechaun in the woodpile claim binge drinking and Flogging Molly sing-a-longs as the only valuable watermarks of one of the oldest cultures in Europe. Yeah, fuck James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and the Book of Kells—how about we put on a plastic hat, get piss drunk on green Michelob, and Riverdance our pale pink asses to the water closet so we can get our final Irish Car Bomb before last call, and we’ll call it a cultural ‘celebration’? The whole thing is just a tad condescending, and it puzzles me why so many European Americans, many of whom actually do have substantial Irish ancestry, participate in St. Patrick’s Day, but I guess I should learn to stop asking questions.
No matter—since it was St. Patty’s Day this week, I thought that instead of complaining like I do every year, I would actually try to make things better by bringing some awareness to the true culture of my ancestors, and specifically, the true drinking culture of my ancestors. So, I’d like to offer two suggestions to this end: actually, it’s one suggestion and one recipe. Ready?
- Read Thomas Cahill’s How The Irish Saved Civilization. It’s short, it’s accurate, it’s moving, and it’s not Ulysses. Hell, it might even make you think twice before you spirit gum that polyester red beard to your face next year.
- Now, here’s a recipe—a genuine Irish recipe, straight from the ancestral motherland, passed to me from my granddad (whose name was Julian Patrick, incidentally), and now to you. It has a documented paper trail of over 200 years, and probably goes back further than that. It is the drink that my family enjoys year-round, not just St. Patrick’s Day, and it is still consumed on a daily basis in pubs all over Ireland. And yet, despite its popularity there, it remains a rarely ordered anomaly here, probably because most Americans are afraid of anything that isn’t ‘smooth’ (read: flavorless). However, you still can’t beat this one for cultural authenticity:
2 oz. Irish Whiskey
Take whiskey, and pour it in a glass.
Awesome, right? Now you can look just a little bit less like a jackass while you sing “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” with the frat boys at your local meat market!
While we’re on the subject of whiskey, a truly good Irish lad and dear friend of ours (Chuck Taggart, of the New Orleans Taggarts), recently gifted us a bottle of Midleton Very Rare 2008, and let me tell you, it’s a barnburner. It’s also the perfect whiskey to try out your new recipe, though they don’t serve it Fridays (I’d stick to John Powers or Jameson’s in that case). Distilled from a combination of 12-21 year old whiskeys that changes with each vintage, the Midleton 2008 is the finest Irish whiskey I’ve ever had. The nose is slightly fruity, a little nutty, and a little smoky. The taste definitely follows through, with all of the aforementioned notes making huge appearances, and the additional layers of honey, toffee, and orange peel. The finish never seems to end, either. This is a whiskey where ice or even water would damage the fullness of flavor, so I’d take this one neat, and let it breathe a minute. A true delight, indeed.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a pint of Guinness, either, so it’s all a matter of choice. In any case, it’s probably not a terrible idea to take a moment on St. Patrick’s Day to think about the sacrifices and hardships that your ancestors—be they Irish or not—endured to make your life possible, and raise a glass or two to their memory. It’s a good habit, and you don’t need a special day, or artificially colored beer, to do it.
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey 2008: 95