Some years ago, I lived in New York and had two friends recently arrived from Ireland. Neither of them thought well of America’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Considering the tsunami of green garb and schlock, Siobhan asked bemusedly, “What does any of this have to do with Ireland?” Dermot was less generous. “If I see another f****** shamrock, I’m going to kill someone.” Neither wanted anything to do with the raucous Manhattan parade or hordes of sodden boys and girls with clovers painted on their cheeks.
That does not, however, mean one should hide inside and pretend it is not March 17. It is what it is, and one should embrace this spring-heralding holiday.
To this end, there are some very basic don’t and do’s for having a decent St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t affect an Irish accent. Don’t say “lassie” or, god forbid, “Begorrah.” Suppress the temptation to put on an emerald green plastic derby, or hang a cardboard cut-out Leprechaun on your wall or window. And, perhaps most critically of all, don’t get stupid drunk. It’s embarrassing.
As for the do’s, well, there is only one: drink good Irish drinks, such as these:
Everyone knows Guinness Draught Stout, as well they should. It is an iconic brew, and a paradoxical one. In glass, its bubbles appear to sink in frothy sheets. For all its darkness, Guinness draught is not especially intoxicating (4.2% alcohol by volume) and its creamy texture is a delight to the palate.
Guinness has brought new brews to market, which are very different from its ancient stout. Guinness Blonde American Lager, No. 1 (5% ABV) arrived in 2014. It is an Irish-American beer — yeast from Guinness added to beer made in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Guinness Blonde occupies a happy place between thin, mass-made American lagers and the yellow hop-bomb lagers turned out by U.S. microbrewers. It is malty, slightly sweet, and has a creaminess in the mouth.
Guinness launched a “brewers project” last year, and two resultant beers have just landed in America. Both are dark, but neither tastes anything like the draught stout. Guinness Dublin Porter (3.8% ABV) is a mildly sweet and malty — almost a dark version of the American lager. It is more flavorful than the Stout, but by no mean a big beer. Guinness West Indies Porter (6.0% ABV) is a brew that will appeal to those who love big microbrews. It offers a thick toffee note and tastes of chocolate.
Irish Spirits: Whiskey and Potcheen (AKA Irish Moonshine)
There are many fine Irish whiskeys, but let us stick to one that strikes the balance between flavor and affordability: Powers. This storied spirit is made at the Middleton Distillery, which produces many remarkable whiskeys in its pot stills. Powers is a firm 86.4 proof (43.2% ABV), a gorgeous amber in color, and offers sweet barley flavor. You can sip it neat or with an ice cube. It is delicious. A fifth of Powers can be had for $25 and a liter for $30. Many bars carry it. Do try it.
For those looking for a rarer and more intense Irish experience, there is potcheen (also spelled poitín and poteen). For centuries, the Irish made their own moonshine, and in the past 20 years licit versions have been coming to market. Knockeen Hills is an especially good one. It comes in strengths varying from 120 to 180 proof. Yet, this clear spirit is so smooth you would not know it. If you can’t find Knockeen Hills or another potcheen on the bar shelf, ask the barkeep if he or she might have a bottle stowed away. You never know. Or order one online.
Whatever you do this St. Patrick’s Day, don’t drink green beer. It is not Irish — it usually is a cheap American lager tinted with food coloring. Besides, you owe it to yourself and your fellow man to set a good example.
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