Serious Eats: Drinks
Irish Cocktail: A Classic Drink for St. Patrick's Day
We've got nothing against Guinness and shots of Jameson downed in honor of St. Patrick's Day, but we wanted to give you a few more options if you're celebrating at home and just don't feel like dosing your beer with green food coloring. How about a classic Irish whiskey cocktail? We think you'll really like this one.
I first stumbled across this classic drink in Patrick Gavin Duffy's Official Mixer's Manual. Perfect, I thought, not only is it an Irish whiskey cocktail, but it also comes from an Irishman. But it turns out that the drink was around long before Duffy's famous book, popping up in everyone's favorite, the Savoy Cocktail Book, among others. The oldest mention I've seen it in so far is in Harry MacElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails.
In addition to Irish whiskey, the Irish Cocktail is made with maraschino, orange curacao, and a touch of absinthe, plus a little Angostura thrown in for good measure. So far it might sound a bit like a popular genever cocktail called the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail, but here's the kicker: in addition to a twist, it's also garnished with an olive. Weird, right?
Orange and anise scented, this odd combination is actually quite tasty. At first it's lightly tinged with citrus and malt, followed by a wave of anise and wormwood from the absinthe. The cocktail ends sweet and herbal with a touch of smoke and salt. It's a great pre-dinner drink, especially if you're serving salty snacks.
One of the most striking things about the Irish Cocktail is the olive garnish (although it wasn't entirely uncommon for all sorts of drinks to get olive garnishes back in the day). For my updated variation, The Dutch Alps, I thought it might be fun to play with the briny taste without actually using olives.
A great way to get that savory flavor in a cocktail is by adding a bit of saline solution. If you haven't heard of it, you're not alone, but it is a trend that has gained a bit of popularity recently. Best used like bitters, a few drops of saline solution will add quite a bit of richness to a drink. Add too much and you'll turn almost any cocktail into a glass of seawater.
Before you go looting IV fluids from the local hospital, slow down: saline solutions are actually super simple to make. Take some water, drop some salt in it, and stir until dissolved. I use 1 part kosher salt to 15 parts water. Doesn't get much easier than that, plus you won't need to wear a ski mask to acquire "supplies."
Getting back to my variation, I went with genever as the base in place of the Irish whisky that's called for in the classic. It plays up the malty flavor of the original nicely. The maraschino and lemon twist stick around, but I switched the bitters from Angostura to orange, lightening the drink a bit.
While we're trying new things, I have a couple more ingredients to introduce you to. The first is genepy, an alpine liqueur flavored with herbs and wormwood that you'll see on the shelves of more and more bars these days. It comes in somewhere between the herbaceousness of Green Chartreuse and the anise and wormwood flavors of absinthe, but is a touch sweeter than both. Dolin makes a good version.
I swapped out the classic's curaçao for Amaro Nonino, a delicious Italian amaro that tastes like a lightly bittered Grand Marnier. It's a favorite bottle that you'll likely find yourself emptying much faster than you'd expect.
The result is a little lighter than its inspiration, thanks to the genever. It's all about the malty flavor, with bitter herbs and citrus in a very smooth package. The saline solution makes it a bit savory, without being too salty. The scent is really refreshing, like a breeze from a citrus scented ocean (but don't worry, it's not nearly as salty).
About the author: Nick Caruana is the author of The Straight Up, where he shares his love of classic and modern cocktails, including a slight obsession with whiskey, bitters and amari. Stalk him on Twitter @The_Straight_Up, Facebook, and other social media outlets.