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Irish Whiskey Cocktails to Celebrate a Great Drinking Holiday

Welcome to Buy You a Drink, where GOOD’s resident mixologist offers intoxicating beverages in tune with the times. This week: Irish whiskey...

Welcome to Buy You a Drink, where GOOD’s resident mixologist offers intoxicating beverages in tune with the times. This week: Irish whiskey cocktails for those who prefer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without food coloring in their beer.

I may be just a humble booze writer, but I’ve got big dreams. I dream of a day when party-going Americans think of red Solo cups as receptacles for sophisticated beverages, not just the stuff of beer pong and hit country songs. I dream of a nation of frat-party attendees dumping out their Popov vodka and flat grocery-store tonic in favor of mixing a simple yet elegant and refreshing Collins with fresh lemon juice and sugar. And I dream that Americans might one day celebrate a purportedly Irish holiday without pouring anything down their gullets with “car bomb” in the name.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the components of the so-called “Irish car bomb.” I enjoy Guinness, Bailey’s, and Irish whiskey—occasionally I enjoy them all, in relatively rapid succession. But if the chemical properties of your beverage are such that you must guzzle it now or see it curdle in front of your eyes, you might want to reevaluate how you’re spending your drinking time. It’s impossible to properly savor any liquid that flies icily past your tongue with its toes pointed like Georg Hackl. That’s just science.

You deserve better, and so does St. Patrick’s Day. As the last of the winter’s Holy Trinity of Drinking Holidays (after New Year’s Eve and Purim), SPD is our last chance for nine months to get sozzled as a society. That unity of purpose alone calls for something strong and Irish. It also calls for something sippable that’s worth remembering the next day.

The Call: Uisce Beatha, Made Even Better

Let’s face it. Whether you’re shouting “Slainte!” in a bar or at a house party, odds are the bartender will be in a terrible hurry and not eager to accommodate obscure requests. Order something with green Chartreuse from your local Paddy O’Themigan’s, and Irish eyes will not be smiling.

But as long as you like Irish whiskey—and apparently everyone does nowadays—you can drink simple, manageable, high-quality cocktails on St. Patrick’s Day. These two beauties, the Martini and Manhattan of the Irish whiskey world, require only whiskey, vermouth, either Bénédictine or bitters, and a few minutes’ peace from the thirsty throngs:


as mixed by David Wondrich in Esquire Drinks

2 oz. Irish whiskey
½ tablespoon French [i.e., dry] vermouth
½ tablespoon Bénédictine

Stir well with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with twist of orange peel.



as mixed by David Wondrich in Esquire Drinks

2 oz. Irish whiskey
1 oz. Italian [i.e., sweet] vermouth
dash orange bitters

Stir well with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.


The Brainstorm and the Emerald stem from the same classic formula: good whiskey cut with a little fresh vermouth, stirred and served up—a pairing as natural as corned beef and cabbage, and just about as delicious. Plus they’re simple enough to assemble at any house party where the host has stocked her cabinet with a few fundamentals.

But say you’re hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party. You’re a reader of this column, which means you’re exceptionally charming, intelligent, and good-looking, with a reputation for taste and discernment in all things. Your guests will be expecting something equally exceptional in the libations department. For parties like that, I whipped up the following refinement of the Brainstorm, which tweaks the vermouth slightly and adds a refreshing and festive-colored hint of mint:

Dublin Fog

2 oz. Irish whiskey
½ tablespoon Bénédictine
½ tablespoon Dolin Blanc vermouth
dash orange bitters
sprig mint

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Roll gently to mix and release the flavors from the mint. Double-strain over new, finely-shaved ice packed tightly into a pewter or copper mug (or a standard tumbler or a red Solo cup, for that matter). Garnish with a new sprig of mint. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top of the ice peeking out from the top of the cocktail.


To spruce up the Emerald, I borrowed the splash of Bénédictine from the Brainstorm and added a festive-colored absinthe rinse. The result is sweet, spicy, and strong in the mold of a Monte Carlo, Frisco, or Sazerac. I named it the Shillelagh, in honor of an Irish weapon that does not put folks in mind of terrorism. (A quick Google search suggests that name is attached to a concoction with all of the following ingredients: Irish whiskey, sloe gin, white rum, peach Schnapps, lemon juice, and sugar. To borrow a phrase from culinary expert Drew Magary: THAT DRINK IS ASS. I promise you my Shillelagh is better.)


2 oz. Irish whiskey
1 oz. sweet vermouth [I used Carpano Antica]
Dash orange bitters
¼ oz. absinthe or pastis
¼ oz. Bénédictine

Stir all ingredients, except absinthe, with cracked ice. Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass or cocktail glass with the absinthe and discard any remaining liquid. Strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with one of those dyed maraschino cherries… if you must.


If you feel a little bit out of place spacing out your Guinness consumption with an Irish whiskey cocktail, or sipping from a cocktail glass as others guzzle green Bud, just remember that St. Patrick himself was more about persecution than drinking. The locals weren’t so fond of old “crazed in the head” Pat back in the 5th century. If the rabble should mock you as you’re savoring a classed-up St. Patrick’s Day, just shake your head sadly on their behalf and vow to withhold your services as a banisher of snakes. People aren’t so judgmental when those curdled shots wear off and there are still unbanished snakes slithering all over town with reckless abandon.

Slainte! Please enjoy a safe, responsible St. Patrick’s Day. Send your cocktail ideas, or your corrections about the connotations of “shillelagh,” to

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