If you, dear reader, are based in the U.S. you may be thinking of March 17 as St. Patrick’s Day. But we have standards to maintain at The Drunkard’s Almanac and will not be discussing green beer or McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes. We could just advise a shot of Jameson and a pint of Guinness and be done with it, but our faithful readers have higher expectations. That’s why we’re mixing the Blackthorn cocktail. It’s one of the few classics that uses Irish Whiskey.
But now we have to talk about the occasion. Analogous to Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, St. Patrick’s Day is not celebrated in Ireland like it is in the U.S. In other words, it’s not a giant jamboree. So we’re actually ignoring St. Patrick’s Day in favor of National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day. It’s the same day and even though corned beef and cabbage is not really a thing in Ireland we naturally gravitate toward a topic that leads to having a Reuben sandwich for lunch the next day.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage is really an Irish-American dish. It’s not the national dish of Ireland and you wouldn’t have it on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. Or pretty much any time in Belfast, for that matter. Put simply, they don’t eat much of it.
But it’s true that the history of corned beef does involve Ireland. Back in Gaelic Ireland cows were symbols of wealth and valued as strong field workers. They weren’t bred to be eaten; that honor went to the pigs and pork still is the most eaten meat there.
Things changed after England conquered most of Ireland. The British made the cow a commodity and encouraged beef production. The Brits had long been a beef eating bunch and their demand required outsourcing a lot of production. Scotland, Ireland and even North America were all employed.
This helped improve the lot of many Irish, but some wealthy British landowners were not so fond of comparatively inexpensive cows showing up and lowering their profits. This led to the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667, which prohibited the export of live animals to England. The Irish corned beef industry was a result.
The Irish were awash in cows, they could no longer export them live to England and their tax on imported salt was one tenth that of England. Of course this was all before refrigeration, and salt was the preferred method of preserving meat. Irish entrepreneurs could afford the best salt and enterprising souls capitalized on it. The British actually invented the term ‘corned beef’ to denote that the salt granules were the size of corn kernels, and the Irish corned beef ended up being the best on the market. Suddenly Ireland was the preferred provider for Europe and America. How the cabbage got involved is anyone’s guess.
The Blackthorn Cocktail
The Blackthorn is one of the few classic cocktails based on Irish whiskey and is a perfect palate cleanser whether you’re enjoying your corned beef with cabbage or in a sandwich. A drink by that name first appeared in How to Mix Drinks by George Spalding in 1906. The Blackthorn Cocktail also appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock.
But there’s one odd thing: the recipes could not be less similar. Spalding’s recipe is based on Sloe Gin. Craddock’s is based on Irish Whiskey. And to add to the confusion Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide in 1947 has five very different recipes.
Indeed, various interpretations still exist. But we’re going along the lines of what Craddock mixed and basing the drink on Irish Whiskey. Even then we have leeway. Craddock mixed it using only dry vermouth. Some more recent versions utilize only sweet vermouth. The Blackthorn is really like a Manhattan, mixing whiskey with vermouth, and the dry and sweet vermouth version are like Dry Manhattan and Manhattan, respectively.
Further, if you don’t have any Irish Whiskey laying around, we won’t give you side eye if you make a substitution. Our preferred swap would be a Japanese grain whiskey, but if the situation is dire Bourbon would also work.
The modern take on the recipe we present is analogous to the Perfect Manhattan we described in the column on the Manhattan itself. Like that drink it splits the vermouth equally between sweet and dry.
- Mixing glass
- Old Fashioned Glass
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into glass over ice, preferably a single large cube.
- Garnish with lemon twist.
- Rinse and repeat.