Your Guide To Drinking This Weekend: The Tipperary

Just in time for St. Pat's!

Up to mighty London
Came an Irishman one day.
As the streets are paved with gold
Sure, everyone was gay,
Singing songs of Piccadilly,
Strand and Leicester Square,
Till Paddy got excited,
Then he shouted to them there:
It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye, Piccadilly,
Farewell, Leicester Square!
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

--Jack Judge, “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary,” 1912

Most of Austin is more than grateful for the out of town visitors arriving in droves this week and the money they inject into the local economy, but as the Austin streets flood with SXSW visitors and panelists--this week the hipster nerds of Interactive and Film, followed by the plain old hipsters of Music next week-- locals can be forgiven for looking longingly towards the 17th, when our reasonably sleepy city will be returned to us.

For those in the service industry however, it does seem a cruel joke of this year’s SXSW schedule that St. Patrick’s Day falls immediately after the festival packs up. When bartenders and servers alike are fatigued from the long nights of parties and showcases and premieres, there is still one more crazy shift to be had, one that, like New Year’s Eve, is often referred to as Amateur Night by those behind the stick because of the insidious binge drinking, the awful proliferation of so called Lagers tinted green by food coloring and the use of a calendar date as an excuse for execrable, alcohol fueled misbehavior.

But there are refuges from this sort of thing come St. Paddy’s day. There have always been the places where nary a green beer was to be found and a pint of Guinness was properly poured and the Irish Whiskey selection was copious. There has always been the sort of pub where the music was more “Follow Me Up to Carlow,” than “Danny Boy.” And now, of course, there are cocktail dens where a proper drink can be had amidst a more civilized atmosphere. Sadly, there are few cocktails, classic or modern, that use Irish Whiskey. Its very strength as a sipping whiskey—its smooth, slightly sweet palatability—makes it less suited to cocktails than whiskey that is more flavorful and rough around the edges. There is the excellent Cameron's Kick, but that cocktail adds Scotch Whisky into the mix, and that simply will not do on St. Patrick’s Day. And then, there is the Tipperary Cocktail, a drink that has murky origins, but that is something of a secret handshake amongst those in the know, a cocktail that takes Irish Whiskey’s friendly personality as a virtue, and that can be successfully tinkered with to suit a variety of palettes or moods. It is a glorious thing when made well, complex and contemplative, and the perfect antidote to Green colored Miller Lite.

A Primer on Irish Whiskey

Put a Scotsman and an Irishman in a bar, and bring up the subject of whisk(e)y and who made it first, and, depending on how far each is into his cups, you will have either a spirited debate or an all out donnybrook. What is certain is that as early Northern Europeans were marauding through the Middle East in the name of religion, they came across some people in the area using a technology they had never seen before to create perfumes and perhaps dabble in a bit of alchemy. Using a giant pot and cap with a long neck and a coil and some fire, they were able to take a volume of liquid and purify it into a smaller more intense quantity of liquid. The crusaders brought this new machine home with them and some monks set to work with it and quickly discovered a far better for use for it than making people smell better.

If they took a quantity of the local beer and put it into the pot and fired the thing up, what came out of the business end was a clear, powerful intoxicant that made people feel better and had the added benefit of being relatively easy to store and transport while never spoiling. They called this new stuff 'Uisge beatha,' or ‘Water of Life,” and set to making more of it with alacrity. It is not clear on which side of the Irish Sea this first happened—Ireland is only nineteen miles from the South West tip of Scotland after all—but what is known for certain is that Scottish records from as far back as 1494 list "Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.” Eight bolls would produce about 1500 bottles of full strength hooch, so, Friar John was clearly either a major lush or operating a commercial distillery of sorts. On the other hand, there are records of Irish Monks producing 'Uisge beatha’ as far back as the 1170s and King James I granted the first license to distill whiskey to Bushmills in Ireland in 1608.

At the end of the day, Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky are similar beasts, but with very important differences in production that create a pronounced difference in flavor. The laws that govern the distillation of Irish Whiskey are not as complex as those that govern Scotch production. In Ireland, whiskey can be made with any grain, including malted and unmalted barley and oats, and must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. Typically, Irish whiskey makers do not use peat to dry their grain as Scotch Whiskey producers do, so the distinctive smoky notes of Scotch are not usually present. Irish producers can use any type of still they like, but typically use a mixture of pot and column stills with a resulting whiskey that is usually softer and milder than Scotch. There are four basic types of Irish Whiskey: “Single Malt Irish Whiskey” is made from 100 percent barley in a pot still at a single distillery. “Grain Whiskey” is made from grains other than barley in a continuous still, is exceedingly rare and very little exists on the market. “Blended Whiskey,” is a marriage of single malt and grain whiskey. Most of the bottles on your liquor store shelf are in this style. Finally, “Pure Pot Still Whiskey,” is made from malted and unmalted barley in a pot still only. Red Breast is the prime example of this style, and Pure Pot Still probably best mirrors the first Irish Whiskeys in profile.

So, This Tipperary Cocktail?

The Tipperary Cocktail most likely dates from the early 1900s. The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book claims that it predates the Jack Judge song above, and it is clearly a cocktail that takes the Manhattan as its inspiration. It seems to first appear in print in the 1919 edition of Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC’s of Mixing Cocktails and there is a (dreadful) gin drink with the same name in MacElhone’s 1927 Barflies & Cocktails. By the time of the publication of Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, there are two versions. The Tipperary No. 1 is an Irish Whiskey based Manhattan variation that appears in the Old Waldorf and MacElhone’s first book, while the Tipperary No. 2 is the gin monstrosity from Barflies.

The original formula for the whiskey based drink takes the original 1-1 proportions of the Manhattan and substitutes Irish Whiskey in for the rye, while replacing the dashes of bitters with a measure of Green Chartreuse that is equal to the whiskey and vermouth. The resulting drink is rich, slightly sweet, a bit brooding and a perfect drink to finish a night on. Modern bartenders sometimes find the original formulation a shade out of balance on the sweet end of the spectrum, and up the quantity of whiskey, while reigning in the vermouth and liqueur. Gary Regan goes as far as using a half ounce of the Green Chartreuse, but only as a rinse that thoroughly coats the glass, leaving a lingering whisper of its flavor and, in the right light, a slight emerald twinge to the finished drink.

All of these variations are deeply satisfying cocktails, and provided your using the right ingredients, will give you a satisfying drink.

An Extraordinarily Brief and Incredibly Simplistic Primer on Distillation & a Note on Ingredients

Distillation is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because its basic principle is quite simple—ethanol boils at 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit and water boils at 212 degrees. If you have a mildly alcoholic liquid (say beer or wine) and you can find a way to heat that liquid to 173 degrees or so, the alcohol will turn to vapor and leave the water behind. If you can than catch and re-condense that vapor into liquid you have a stronger, more purely alcoholic beverage.

There are a number of different still designs that have evolved over time, and some are more efficient at purifying ethanol than others. The original pots used for distillation are the most inefficient systems, producing alcohol with a lower percentage of ethanol than the more efficient modern or column stills. But less efficiency also offers more flavor, and a resulting beverage with a more robust, flavorful character.

This matters, particularly, for the Tipperary cocktail because Pure Pot Still whiskey is more robust than its blended whiskey cousins, and works significantly better in cocktails. Red Breast 12 Year Old Whiskey is the market standard in the Pure Pot Still category and is excellent in the Tipperary. It is also a shade tough on the wallet compared to the more commonly available blended whiskies. The base Jameson is ok in this cocktail, the base Bushmills is better, Power’s is decent, Tullamore Dew can work, but none of these will be as deeply rich and satisfying as the Red Breast here. Some newer labels, especially Michael Collins Single Malt are interesting here as well, but the use of peat in its production does significantly impact the final cocktail.

For the other components, there is no substitute for Green Chartreuse, so bite the bullet and buy yourself a bottle. For the vermouth, because it’s playing with the rather aggressive Chartreuse, try to pick something that can stand up to it. Either the Carpano Antica formula or the Cocchi Vermouth di Torino will shine in this drink, while Dolin and Noily Pratt and the like will be slightly more subdued.

Some Recipes

The Tipperary (Original)

1 oz. Red Breast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

1 oz. Green Chartreuse

1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve without adornment.

The Tipperary (Modern)

2 oz. Irish whiskey

3/4 oz. Carpano Antica Formula or other sweet vermouth

1/2 oz. green Chartreuse

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve without adornment.

The Tipperary (Gary Regan)

2 oz. Irish Whiskey

1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

1 oz. sweet vermouth

Pour the Chartreuse into a chilled cocktail glass, and by tilting the glass and rotating it at the same time, coat the entire interior of the glass. Discard the excess Chartreuse. Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add the whiskey and the vermouth. Stir for approximately 30 seconds and strain into the prepared cocktail glass.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!