Let’s start with the one thing that’s more unforgivable than all others when it comes to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. But before we do, here are a few things you should be able to get away with.
First up, a playlist where the Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, Therapy?, and Stiff Little Fingers have just as much right to be there as the Dubliners and Sweeney’s Men.
Let no one judge you for painting every part of your body green except your eyeballs, watching all eight Leprechaun movies, or having Lucky Charms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That no one does those things in Ireland isn’t the point, because the reality is that, for most of us, St. Patrick’s Day has about as much to do with blessed Saint Patrick as Christmas Day does with celebrating the baby Jesus.
Rightly or wrongly, Xmas is mostly about Santa, elf-slaves, and bullied red-nosed reindeer on this side of the Atlantic. And, unless you’re talking about the devoutly religious, St. Patrick’s Day is a reason for decidedly non-Irish North Americans to raid the dollar store for green bowler hats, green nonprescription glasses, and green beards. And then head to a neighbourhood pub with a name like Paddy McShamrock’s to drink green beer—clearly unaware there’s nothing more offensive than green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.
There is a better liquor-nerd way when it comes to celebrating the death of Ireland’s patron saint. And we’ll get to that in a second. In the meantime, make sure the Guinness is chilling in the fridge. Or, if it's already cold, pour one and then spend a few minutes with the Dropkick Murphys, who are great enough here we can forgive the Milan Lucic appearance.
Now, a bit of history. What we today know as St. Patrick’s Day can be traced back to the passing of Saint Patrick on March 17, 461. Historians believe that Patrick was born in Britain, and then kidnapped by pirates who brought him to Ireland. Flash forward a few years, and after returning to England a devout Christian, he packed his bags again and embarked on a quest to steer Ireland toward Christianity. In the process he became Ireland’s patron saint. Or at least that’s what it says on history.com.
Over the years, St. Patrick’s Day has grown to the point where it’s now celebrated—often as St. Paddy’s Day—in more countries around the world than any other national festival. (It’s not only an official holiday in Ireland, but also in Newfoundland and Labrador.)
While we’re talking history, there’s been some debate about whether the term St. Paddy’s Day is considered offensive, given that the word between “St.” and “Day” can be a slur when used alone. Merriam-Webster notes the usage in this instance comes from the fact that Patrick is the Anglicized version of Pádraig—shortened versions for which include Paddy.
The everything-Irish website irishcentral.com, meanwhile, tackled the question with a post that starts out with “Every March 17, a minority of people complain that the term ‘Paddy’s Day’ is offensive. We’re here to clear up the matter.” Their verdict, based again on the nickname for Pádraig? That would be “The only people who might have a case for being offended by this are the very devout, who could take issue with referring to St. Patrick in such a chummy way.”
Really want to offend the locals at your Dublin local? The general consensus is to refer to St. Patrick’s Day as St. Patty’s. That truly is unforgivable. As is stepping up to the bar in Ireland and asking for an Irish Car Bomb, where Irish whiskey and Bailey’s are dropped boilermaker-style into a glass of Guinness. Invented Stateside in 1979, said cocktail is every bit as inappropriate as an Irish bartender creating something named Disappearing Twin Towers. Which is to say, should you ever be able to travel again, you’ll be punched out in Belfast for ordering one, and rightly so.
The same goes for green beer, a tradition that started in America somewhere around 1904, and somehow became the favourite way to ruin a Harp, Porterhouse IPA, or Wild Irish Goose every St. Patrick’s Day.
In the interest of staying positive, let’s turn our attention to one of the Emerald Isle’s greatest exports: Guinness. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to order one in the Temple Bar district, you know that the act of serving up a pint is a process that isn’t rushed. The Irish stout is poured in two stages, starting with the 45-degree tilted pour, after which there’s a two-minute waiting time and a top up.
Getting your goodness from a can? The 45-degree pour is also the way to go, although you can do it one shot, straightening the glass when you’re two inches from the rim. Let it settle before drinking.
The great thing about Guinness-based cocktails is that the majority of the heavy lifting is done with that initial pour. After that, the stout’s strong coffee and chocolate notes work well with anything that you might traditionally associate with, well, coffee and chocolate.
For an After Eight–like Newly Minted, all you need is one ounce of crème de menthe dropped in 15 ounces of Guinness. Go the simulated-fruit route with a Purple Guinness, which is simply stout with an ounce of black currant liqueur.
Sometimes you need a heavy hitter when it’s time to kick off happy hour, doubly so on a pandemic St. Patrick’s Day. For a Guinness Martini, take 1/2 ounce dark rum, 1/4 ounce each coffee and crème de cacao, and 3.5 ounces stout, pour in a Boston shaker over ice, stir, and then strain into a martini glass. Channel your inner Alannah Myles with a Black Velvet, which is an even up mix of Guinness and champagne.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that the pride of Irish beer goes with most things, which means you’re limited only by your imagination. Give your Guinness a tropical spin with a shot of banana or pomegranate liqueur—if the marriage works in bread, it will work in a glass.
Or, perhaps because St. Patrick’s Day is just one step removed from a national holiday in America, maybe bridge Kentucky and Dublin with an Oscar Wilde. And should you find yourself mortally offended by those who choose to celebrate March 17 with green beer, green plastic hats, and green beards, remember what Wilde once wrote: “Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.”
1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Guinness
1/2 oz simple syrup
Dash of botanical bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice in a Boston shaker, strain into a glass, and then garnish with an orange peel.