Raise a glass to some of your favorite cocktails this St. Patrick’s Day, classics that have changed how we drink Irish whiskey in unexpected ways. For example, the much-loved Irish Coffee helped save Ireland’s whiskey distilleries from near-extinction in the 1950s. Similarly, the Pickleback introduced the Jameson brand to a new generation and ensured drinkers could clamor for more Irish whiskey in dive bars across the country.
Here are the stories (and recipes) behind four cocktails made with Irish whiskey. And there’s not a green drink in the bunch.
While a couple of origin stories exist for this drink, the prevailing version is it was created by Joe Sheridan and served at Ireland’s Shannon Airport. But the drink’s popularity comes from Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista restaurant in San Francisco. Koeppler re-created the recipe with the help of travel writer Stanton Delaplane.
“I always say it was invented in Ireland, yet made famous in America,” says Tim Herlihy, U.S. ambassador for Tullamore Dew, who has researched this and other Irish whiskey cocktails. “Irish whiskey at the time was on its knees, close to extinction. What kept the pulse of whiskey going in the ’50s was the Irish Coffee. That was what kept the lights on in the few remaining distilleries.”
Recipe adapted from The Buena Vista, San Francisco
☐ Hot coffee
☐ 2 sugar cubes
☐ 1½ ounces Irish whiskey
☐ Heavy cream, whipped
Fill a footed glass with hot water to warm the glass, then discard the water. Fill glass with hot coffee until about three-quarters full. Add sugar cubes, and stir until dissolved. Add Irish whiskey. Hold a spoon, rounded side up, over drink and gently pour whipped cream over back of spoon so it floats on top to form a “collar.”
Made with equal parts Irish and Scotch whiskey, this drink’s origin is attributed to Harry MacElhone’s 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Making Cocktails. While no one seems to know who Cameron was, it’s become a staple of the modern cocktail canon. Cocktail historian David Wondrich is generally credited the drink’s revival in the mid-2000s. He first published the recipe in his 2005 book, Killer Cocktails (Harper Collins), which eventually landed it on cocktail menus across New York City. We’re glad he did, because it helped elevate Irish whiskey from mere shot status to cocktail essential.
Recipe courtesy The Cocktail Chronicles, by Paul Clarke
☐ 1 ounce Irish whiskey
☐ 1 ounce blended Scotch whisky
☐ ½ ounce lemon juice
☐ ½ ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
☐ Orange twist, to garnish
Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to chill, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.
Though we may never know who the first person was to take a sip of pickle brine after a shot of whiskey (and whether it was an accident or intentional), this odd-sounding Southern combination gained popularity in New York’s cocktail scene in 2006 thanks in part the bar Bushwick Country Club in Brooklyn, New York. Neighborhood scuttlebutt says the one-two of whiskey and pickle juice was observed being consumed there by a tourist from Florida, and emulated by the bartender and patrons using Old Crow Bourbon (not Irish whiskey), plus a “back” of spicy pickle juice from neighboring McClure’s Pickles. Eventually, the preferred way to prepare the shot switched to Irish whiskey, specifically Jameson. What started as a bartenders’ secret handshake soon became a phenomenon with myriad variations.
☐ 1 shot Jameson Irish Whiskey
☐ 1 shot pickle brine
Shoot or sip the whiskey first, then the pickle brine.
“I don’t want to say it’s the most famous Irish whiskey cocktail, but it’s probably our most famous classic,” says Herlihy. The story behind this elegant drink, which first appeared in Hugo R. Ensslin’s 1917 book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, is that a guest walked in, asked for a drink, and was humming the song “It’s a Long Road to Tipperary,” which was an anthem for homesick Irish soldiers in the British army during World War I. Of course, a drink named for Tipperary, a county in Ireland, would feature Irish whiskey.
Recipe courtesy Sean Muldoon, founder/general manager, The Dead Rabbit, New York City
☐ 1½ ounces Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey
☐ 1 ounce sweet vermouth
☐ ½ ounce green Chartreuse
☐ ½ ounce chilled water
☐ 2 dashes orange bitters
☐ ½ teaspoon cane sugar syrup
☐ Orange twist, for garnish
In a mixing glass, stir together all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.