This week, millions will take to house parties, parades, and local Irish pubs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It goes without saying that in modern times the holiday has become synonymous with over-indulgence, poor behavior, and unplanned releasing of bodily fluids. Indeed, much has been written about how this is really an American holiday and how little it has to do with either traditional or modern Ireland. Corned beef and cabbage was likely never eaten on the Emerald Isle, and the timbre of this Holy Day of Obligation was more along the lines of a “mellow Easter” than a frat party.
But I’ll be honest with you, while I can do without the green beer and shamrock bunting, I like American St. Patrick’s Day and the raucous revelry it brings. My hope with this piece is that we can find a third-way, a compromise between a Leprechaun-themed spring break in Daytona Beach and a solemn Catholic religious observation (and while they both include administering wine to those underage, I don’t mean that). Below are a few tips aimed at improving your understanding of the Emerald Isle and encouraging you to imbibe with a level of knowledge and dignity worthy of your standing as War on the Rocks readers.
Learn Something about Modern Ireland
First, I would encourage readers to learn one fact about modern Ireland prior to Thursday. For example, many Americans who identify as Irish may be surprised to learn that Ireland recently had an election, and the Taoiseach (pronounced “tea-shock,” AKA Ireland’s prime minister) was forced to resign after failing to secure enough votes for leadership. The country is currently operating under a caretaker government and there is tentative discussion of a “grand coalition” between the country’s two largest parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, in order to form a new government. While an imperfect metaphor, this would basically be like the Democrats and Republicans forming a government together, so it’s a big deal.
Are sports more your thing? No problem, both Irish national soccer teams, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, have made the Euro tournament, which will take place this spring. This has never happened, so it’s also a massive deal.
With that in mind …
Don’t Order a “Car Bomb”
There are plenty of reasons to avoid this drink, human decency being a big one, but my objection is mostly a matter of taste. Anything that you need to slam down your gullet before it curdles is not something you’re really enjoying. Furthermore, the aforementioned concoction takes 3 great things (Guinness, Jameson, and Baileys) and ruins them; it is less than the sum of its parts. If you’re simply looking to get loaded there are easier and cheaper ways. As an alternative I would recommend buying a shot of Irish whiskey. If that’s not your thing then you can go for a craft cocktail, just remember to …
Ditch the Gimmicks
Unfortunately, this holiday brings out the worst in gimmicky drinks and cocktails. Green beer is an obvious one, but bars are also offering things like Jameson Mimosas or Tullamore Dew Bloody Marys. These are bad ideas. Inventive or themed cocktails are great, but stick with variations on classics that make sense. For example, order an Old Fashioned with Irish whiskey instead of bourbon. Do you want to feel like The Dude? I think he would abide by your decision to add some Bailey’s to your White Russian. Want to switch it up from just a regular beer? Go ahead and order a Black Velvet (½ Guinness, ½ sparkling wine) or a Snakebite (½ Guinness, ½ hard cider). But speaking of the grain and the glass …
Embrace Session Beer
St. Patrick’s Day is a marathon, not a sprint. Thankfully there is a wonderful world of session beer that can keep you on track for a good day into evening. For the unfamiliar, session beers are brewed so that the drinker can enjoy several pints over an extended period of time, or session. There isn’t an official alcohol level that a beer has to fall under to be considered a session, but good sense would suggest that anything under 5% qualifies. Practically, any beer up to 5% could be quaffed as a session beer (a Berliner Wiese for example) but traditionally session beers are of British and Irish origin, including certain stouts, porters, milds, pale ales (even some IPAs), and bitters. One benefit of the otherwise troubling IPA craze is that brewers have begun to put out session-able variants on the style. All Day IPA by Founders, which comes in at sensible 4.7%, and Easy Jack IPA (4.5%) by Firestone-Walker are great flavorful choices for the true hopheads that can’t put down their American style IPAs even on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, at 4.2% ABV, Guinness Draught is perfect for all day quaffing. Goose Island’s Honkers Ale is probably the most classic American riff on a proper bitter, and at 4.3% you’ll be feeling a-okay all day long.
(Note: Don’t be an idiot. Session beer is still beer and still gets you drunk. Take this as advice to help you remain standing at the end of the night, not license to drive home. If you consume alcohol, stay clear of wild animals and don’t operate anything with a motor)
If you’re feeling creative …
Make Your Own Irish Cream
If you’re heading to a St. Patrick’s Day dinner or party consider bringing your hosts some homemade Irish cream. While Bailey’s is tasty, making your own version is ridiculously easy. Plus, you get to control how sweet or boozy the finished product is. This recipe from Saveur makes a can’t-miss, insanely rich Irish cream that will elevate your Irish coffees to the next level. Simply adjust the whiskey or sweetened condensed milk to taste. A word of caution, homemade Irish cream won’t be shelf-stable like its commercial alternatives, so make sure to keep it in the fridge.
And after you’ve had a few …
Our American folk music culture is so influenced by Irish music that it would be a shame not to celebrate it on St. Patrick’s Day. From the drinking song to the heartbreaking ballad to the fiddle, the music of the American south, and subsequently folk music all over North America, was influenced heavily by Irish immigrants (although African Americans inarguably had a greater impact). The Chieftains and the Clancy Brothers should be required listening for everyone in the month of March. Don’t want to get so jiggy with it? Rock out Belfast’s own Van Morrison. Feeling nostalgic? The Cranberries will do in a pinch. And of course, it would be a massive oversight to omit The Pogues.
So go forth, reader, and celebrate in a way that St. Patrick himself would approve. A little knowledge and discerning palate will greatly increase your enjoyment of this still-noble holiday. Who knows, maybe we can put up a fight and reclaim St. Patrick as an icon of good sense and proper taste from the green beer swillers of the world. Still not convinced? That’s fine, really the most important part of St. Patrick’s Day in our modern American context is having fun. Drink green beer and listen to Justin Bieber if it makes you happy. Just don’t order a car bomb.
James Sheehan is a homebrewer and cider-maker. He holds an MA in Terrorism, Security, and Society from King’s College London.