One of the best holidays of the year is upon us! Every seventeenth day of March my residence is painstakingly converted into Ó Buachalla's Drunken Moose Pub in celebration of everyone's favorite patron saint of Ireland. [Sincerest apologies to those loyal patrons whose favorite patron saint of Ireland is Brigit of Kildare or Saint Columba]. Saint Patrick is honored in style with food, fellowship, Irish drinking songs, and a modicum of frivolity. Party on.
Traversing the Irish alleys reinforces the well-established fact that every Irish pub needs a noteworthy name. The Drunken Moose Pub is no exception. But what are its origins? Ó Buachalla is the ancient gaelic form of my surname, Buckley. The drunken moose is, of course, our mischievous housemate and pet, Lenny the Moose. Several decades ago I rescued Lenny from a monotonous and degrading life as a New England lawn ornament, and ever since he has been a faithful companion and resident of the Buckley household. Despite his occasional propensity for besotted shenanigans, Lenny is a fine moose and friend.
Americans get pretty much everything wrong concerning St. Patrick's Day. Seriously, everything. In summary, the Irish did not traditionally wear green, eat corned beef (lamb and bacon are more traditional Irish meals), or drink excessively (the holiday started as a religious feast during the lent season with pubs closed until only recently). Oh, and we get leprechauns completely wrong, which became celebrated on St. Patrick's Day through incorporation of ancient Celtic mythology and associated druidism. So, since we get pretty much everything wrong anyway, we fashioned a celebration focused on fusion Irish food (who wants to eat traditional Irish food?!?) and tasty inebriating beverages.
The spread includes an Irish soda bread and cheese plate, boxty, smoked salmon with cucumber, dill and feta cheese, and corned beef lettuce wraps with a Guinness-balsamic reduction, pickled carrot and daikon, and fresh herbs. For dessert, the Buckley house Lucky Leprechaun Sundae with a Guinness brownie base, homemade Bailey's mint chocolate chip ice cream, and topped with Guinness fudge sauce, Bailey's marshmallow cream and gold flakes. The Good Saint would be proud and well fed.
While the cuisine is crucial, beverages are the talk of Ireland. I chose three.
Redbreast and Whiskey’s Ecclesiastical Heritage
An Irish celebration isn’t complete without whiskey, and I located just the bottle: Redbreast 15 Year Single Pot Still Whiskey. Aromatic and sophisticated, this Redbreast wonderfully demonstrates the very best of Irish whiskey. And on this religious holiday, Irish whiskey's narrative proves it is a fitting choice.
Located on the western fringes of Christendom, scholars across Europe were attracted to Ireland’s strong monastic culture of intellectualism and enlightenment. Amongst the traveling scholars were wayfarers from the Middle East that brought the process of distillation as early as the twelfth century. The technology was first implemented in the production of perfumes and medicines, but it didn’t take long that put that technology to a new and better use. It was here, in the Irish monasteries, that whiskey finds its rudimentary beginnings. By the early fifteenth century, whiskey had gained a foothold in communities across Ireland.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a steep rise in taxes targeted toward distilleries in Ireland (and Scotland). A popular product is the perfect opportunity for tax revenue. One problem: whiskey distillers were rather disinclined to pay higher taxes. Insert conflict here. Distillers would operate their stills at night in a clandestine manner to avoid detection from tax collectors, earning the nickname “moonrakers” or “moonshiners” (a term that was adopted during the American Whiskey Rebellion). Post-production, the whiskey was stored in barrels hidden away in dark, dewy cellars, out-of-sight of pesky inquiring inspectors. This tax evasion maneuver led to the more commonplace practice of cask aging, even after tax inspector intrusions had ceased.
In 1792, the British government steeply raised tax on malted barley in an attempt to extract even greater taxes on the Irish whiskey industry. Distillers countered with the inclusion of a substantial proportion of unmalted raw barley in the mash bill of their whiskey, thereby falling outside of the definition of “malted barley” and circumventing taxation. Tax evasion: part two. Well played. Mash bill mischief kept the Crown’s coffers vacant. The unanticipated result was a pleasant whiskey with a distinct weight and mouthfeel, and fruity aromas of apple, peach and pear. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was the most widely-consumed whiskey in the United States. These tricky tax-dodging tactics eventually produced a hallmark flavor component of Irish whiskey.
This whiskey is subtle, yet elegant and charming. Aromatics jump from the glass with caramel, toffee, spice and fresh tropical fruits of mango and guava. The palate is driven by classic flavors of malt, wood, caramel and toffee, but a pleasant pepper spice shines through, balanced by vanilla sweetness, fruit (apple and mango), clove and cinnamon on the finish. A delightfully smooth and wonderful whiskey that befits the occasion.
Of God and Guinness
Of course, the most internationally recognizable Irish intoxicant has a place at the table: Guinness. Like whiskey, Guinness also has a religious narrative. In Eighteenth Century Ireland, whiskey and gin were the preferred beverages due to the widespread dilemma of unsafe drinking water. Be safe, drink gin. This distilled inclination led to excessive public drunkenness and a period marked by poverty and crime.
Arthur Guinness, founder of the black stuff, was a man of faith, and the insobrietal state of society infuriated him. After prayerfully petitioning God to rid the streets of this inebriating plague, God countered with a calling: create a tasty replacement beverage with less alcohol content that citizens would enjoy and that would contain more healthy and nutritious benefits. Arthur was up to the ecclesiastical challenge.
Signing a 9,000-year lease in 1759 on a dilapidated and ill-equipped brewery in Dublin (he had rather long-term ambitions), Arthur Guinness got to work fashioning a dark beer after the popular pub choices in London. Beer was lower in alcohol, safe for drinking, and highly nutritious (perhaps "highly" was a stretch, but later scientific research confirmed Guinness affords plenty of nutritional benefits). Monks and evangelicals were counted amongst the brew masters, so [obviously] God found it copacetic.
The Nineteenth Century was a time of perfecting the porter, and by the turn of the Century, Guinness was surpassing all competitors as the preferred dark beer in the United Kingdom. From there, the black stuff was imported across the globe and is now a ubiquitous icon of Ireland itself.
O’Shaughnessy: Napa Valley’s Irish Wine
Admittedly, wine is not the first beverage one may consider when contemplating an Irish spread. This is, however, a wine blog, and I am always looking outside the box. What I found was an Irish gem in Napa Valley.
Napa Valley has risen to become the crown jewel of U.S. winemaking. The Valley is bordered by the Mayacama Mountain Range to the west and north, and the Vaca Mountains to the east. The elevation provides morning sunshine only accessible above the morning fog, and cooling breezes in the afternoon when the Valley floor is at its hottest. This combination results in more structured, complex wines in the mountainous AVAs.
Nestled in these mountains, O’Shaughnessy found its vinous home. With vineyard locations on Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder, O’Shaughnessy takes full advantage of the elevation and the rocky mountain terroir that produces well-drained soils rich in a panoply of limestone, minerals and volcanic sediment.
The result is a Cabernet Sauvignon that exudes opulence and power. Perennially one of Napa’s best value Cabernets, this wine greets the palate with cherry, plum, blueberry (from a touch of Merlot and Malbec in the blend), and mocha. Full-bodied and dense with wonderful fruit and well-integrated tannin. Consistently one of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignons coming out of Napa Valley.
With all of these beverages from which to choose, there is no reason to go thirsty this Saint Patrick's Day. So raise a glass and recount this poignant Irish proverb: may the enemies of Ireland never eat bread nor drink whiskey, but be afflicted with itching without the benefit of scratching.