GMP’s James Stafford visited Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day courtesy of Jameson Irish Whiskey. Here’s his wrap up of his once in a lifetime experience.
We raise a glass to Jameson for sponsoring this story.
Before I left to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland I was warned by several people not to expect much. “It’s different there,” they said. “It’s a religious holiday. You aren’t going to see green beer and leprechaun top hats. That’s the Americanized version.”
In the days leading up to the holiday, I asked several locals what to expect. “Don’t expect much,” said one Dub, as Dubliners call themselves. “People mostly stay home with their families, though they might take their kids to the parade.” So I didn’t expect much, and then Dublin went apeshit.
St. Paddy’s fell on a Monday this year, so the party began on Saturday. Dublin’s City Centre was flooded with face painters, leprechaun beards, and giant top hats, and the drink flowed freely. The crowd skewed younger so perhaps the old folks stayed home for a quiet family dinner, but they would have been the only people not crowding the streets. And when I say the party began on Saturday that’s exactly what I mean. These folks went straight through to Monday night, so don’t believe the hype: The Dubs host a world class St. Patrick’s party. Add that trip to you bucket list (bucket optional).
My St. Patrick’s Day trip to Ireland was courtesy of the good people at Jameson, and I do mean good people. What could have been a routine journalist trip to a distillery was transformed into a genuine experience thanks to their care and hospitality. That sentiment extends to the Irish people, too, whose kindness and warmth shone at every stop.
Many of those stops were pubs—this was a whiskey tour, after all—each with its own unique community:
The Blackbird in Ballycotton was very warm and family oriented. The owner was as much a part of the night as the pub itself, and the food was delicious.
Pat Shortt’s Bar in Castlemartyr felt like the corner bar. Couples held hands at the tables, the old timers occupied one end of the bar, and the younger guys held down the other. Each group kept to themselves, but they were happy to entertain a little conversation with the visiting Americans.
- The Vintage Cocktail Club in Dublin, with its vinyl record collection and its basement bar for 40 or so was hip and intimate, and they make a damn good vintage cocktail.
- The Liquor Rooms and Hogan’s, also in Dublin, had a very young, almost American vibe—one endless dance cut to keep the floor full and the booties shaking.
- Grogans in the heart of Dublin teems with the ghosts of literary giants and one of the most eclectic art collections you can imagine.
Never mind the drink, forget what you think you know about Irish food. Ballymaloe in East Cork is a working farm and cooking school on par with any restaurant that aligns itself with the slow food and locally sourced movements. They serve a five course dinner that has to be experienced to really be appreciated, but suffice to say that the roast lamb with mint sauce was the best I’ve ever tasted. Originally opened in 1964, the family business has spawned several distinct but interconnected family businesses including the restaurant, hotel, school, farm, and a line of jarred relishes. My Jameson friend and future national treasure recommended what she called “Ballymaloe sauce,” which became my white whale for the rest of my time in Ireland.
I finally found some at Dublin’s L. Mulligan. Grocer, located on the Dickensian sounding Stoneybatter Road. The site of a former grocery, L. Mulligan’s is a wonderful restaurant and pub featuring quirky, clever touches like menus bound into old books. Their wild boar burger served on a boxty, or potato pancake, was perfectly delicious, and when I finally dipped a chip into my much coveted Ballymaloe sauce I was not disappointed.
In retrospect I wasn’t disappointed with anything. One would have a hard time finding a more welcoming place than Ireland. At one point I slipped away from my Jameson group and roamed Dublin’s City Centre, looking for an independent record store. There was no way I was coming home without some rare and local vinyl for my stacks, but record stores are almost as rare as leprechauns these days. I’d nearly given up hope when I spotted a shop half filled with comic books and half with records.
The joint turned out to be neither comic nor record shop but rather in transition between the two. The store was closed for business while the comics inventory was replaced by the goods for the soon to open record store. Rather than disappoint me, the owner invited me in to look around, talked music with me, and knocked 10 Euros off of the stack of records I wasn’t supposed to be shopping for. You can’t beat that kind of hospitality.
Music was an important part of my Jameson experience. My soundtrack for the long journey to, from, and around Ireland was The Who. Maximum R&B has nothing to do with the Emerald Isle, but I packed a fat biography of Keith Moon for the plane ride so the music sort of chose itself. Besides, I like to think Moon the Loon was our spirit guide for a week long pub crawl. Each pub was a musical surprise, from the local players at the Blackbird to the ’80s top 40 at Pat Shortt’s. The Dublin clubs ran the gamut from electronic dance music (EDM) to Led Zeppelin.
But the real action was at the old Jameson Distillery in Dublin, where the company hosted a small gathering a couple of nights prior to St. Patrick’s Day. Whiskey sours and Jameson and gingers flowed freely while indie locals Darling and White Lies played acoustic sets. Both bands turned in solid, stripped down performances, but White Lies won the night with a melancholy cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.”
This was just the preamble. The next night found us at Dublin’s beautiful Ambassador Theatre, where both bands played full electric sets to an enthusiastic crowd. They were joined by a third band, Funeral Suits, whose music was melodic with heroic beats and heavy on the bass, and a drummer who wasn’t afraid of his crash cymbal. They earned themselves a new fan that night.
So did White Lies, who were playing their first hometown gig since 2009. This was their crowd, the audience singing along with every word and crying—literally crying—with happiness.
Upstairs at the Ambassador was a VIP lounge for the writers and DJs flown in from around the world to cover St. Patty’s Day Jameson style. The international turnout was impressive: Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, France, Colombia, the US and UK—and those are just the countries I ran into. Dublin’s 1.6 million population felt like twice that by St. Patrick’s Day.
So yes, the music was great, the food was amazing, and the parties were popping. Inevitably, though, I was there for the drink, and I’ll never look at Irish whiskey the same way. The tradition and craftsmanship that goes into every bottle across the entire line of Jameson offerings is staggering: The original Jameson, with its blend of pot still and grain whiskeys and its caramel and vanilla notes; rowdy older brother Jameson Black Barrel, who insists on leaving a peppery afterthought on the tip of the tongue; and the well bred patrician, Jameson 18 Year Reserve, with its pleasing mix of toffee, fudge, and plums. And that’s just a drop in the barrel of the company’s extensive offerings.
I feel a certain responsibility both to your palate and your liver to close with a cocktail recipe. I picked this up from a bartender at Damson Diner who needs his own show. Funny, engaging, and a wealth of knowledge on cocktails and Irish whiskey, my new friend turned me on to the Tipperary, a cocktail celebrating its 100th birthday. This tasty beverage originated in New York not too long after the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” became a global smash of “Gangnam Style” proportions. Its heritage may be American but its star is Irish whiskey, which might be why this cocktail is also known as the Irish negroni. Sláinte.
1 part Jameson Original
1 part chatreuse
1 part Italian vermouth
Shake well in a tumbler full of ice. Strain and garnish with an olive.
Ultimately a product is only as good as the people who make it, and Jameson is made by real people, for real people. The care that goes into each bottle ensures every glass is warm and hospitable – whether its neat, mixed, or on the rocks – just like those who enjoy it. There is hard work and humanity behind every smooth ounce.
Jameson lives beyond St. Patrick’s Day through traditions held by groups of friends around the world. At family reunions and local dive bars, band practices and parties, in the happy hours and in the wee hours, Jameson brings people and communities together all year round.
—photos Maggie Chestney and the author