It was foggy and overcast as I stood on the porch, my breakfast tea in one hand, toasted soda bread the boy had made, slathered with Kerrygold butter in the other. I was reminded of another morning, nearly twenty years ago in County Cork, drinking tea, eating warm brown bread, watching a boat floating in the lough across the lawn. A boat without a passenger, in the middle of the water. I never wondered how it got there, why it was there or what it meant. Funny how that happens. I took a picture and it wasn’t till years later that it occurred to me that a pilotless boat in the middle of a lake is unusual. That image has stuck with me and on mornings when the mist comes in close, I often wonder what happened to that boat and the person who loved it. Just another mystery without an answer or even a proper question. So, in that spirit, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Irish Cocktail.
This drink is a bit of a mystery itself. It is another of those pre-prohibition drinks that requires a bit of interpretation, passed down through the gauntlet of Harry’s . It first appears in Harry Johnson’s 1900 “Bartender’s Manual” then in Harry McElhone’s 1927 “Barflies and Cocktails” to land in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” in 1935. Like all the recipes of the time it is a confusion of 1/2 wine glasses, splashes and dashes, but don’t worry, I’ve done the math for you. It gets its name from a single ingredient, Irish Whiskey, and no other real tie to the Emerald Isle at all. Still, it is St. Patrick’s Day and folks expect something with Irish in the title, at least I am not adding green food coloring to it. I will say one thing for the Harry’s, they knew how to communicate a recipe with precision. Those old books will have 4-6 recipes per undersized page, presented with a minimum of editorialization. I, on the other hand, will often take a paragraph or two to get my throat cleared properly before diving into the making part of the drink. Some say it is the gift of gab, others say I have too many words, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
Grab a mixing pitcher and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of Irish Whiskey, I chose Jameson; 2 dashes each, that would be 1/4 teaspoon to you and me, of Cointreau and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, 1 dash or 1/8 teaspoon of Absinthe, I chose Corsair and 1 dash of Boker’s Bitters, which means I finally get to use my prized bottle of Bitter Truth Bogart’s Bitters. Add ice and stir to the sounds of “C’est La Vie” by B*Witched, because who doesn’t need more 1998 Irish pop in their lives? When well stirred and chilled, about the time Edele offers “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours,” strain into a chilled Nick & Nora, express an orange peel over the drink and garnish with double olives placed suggestively on a glass pick from Surfside Sips.
Wow, that is surprising. Honestly, I expected this to be almost indistinguishable from a shot of Jameson. Sure, there are some strong flavors in there, but in such tiny quantities that I figured they wouldn’t move the needle much, but this is lovely and smooth. I really believe it was the bitters that put this one over the top and that will help explain the high praise they are given in the old books. The actual recipe for Bogart’s, often misspelled as Boker’s, was lost for many years after they ceased operation in the 1920’s. What has been sold as Boker’s since then was developed to approximate the flavor. A few years ago, a bottle of the original Bogart’s surfaced and was used to recreate this classic “original” bitters, which turned out to be quite different from modern Boker’s Bitters. Whatever it is, this all-alcohol drink is smooth as can be and interesting with each ingredient bringing a distinctive taste to the overall flavor profile. I did not expect much out of this one, but it is lovely. Even the weird addition of the olive brings a nice acidity on the nose. This is an inspired drink with an uninspiring demeanor, add it to your menu and watch all but those in the know ignore it completely.
Is this drink Irish? I don’t know, beyond the whiskey, it doesn’t feel like it, but I could see enjoying this one at the White House bar in Kinsale and it is a fine drink for today. It’s not flashy or covered in shamrocks or dyed an unnatural shade of green, but is is good and unexpectedly smooth. So, maybe it is the most Irish drink of all, embodying what I love most about Ireland, the quiet, unassuming, beautiful land and people and the simply good feeling I get when we are rambling through its hills and villages. The first time we visited the rugged Western shore, I felt like I had come home and I need to get back, we have unfinished business there, but that is another tale for another time. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.