I’ve moved around quite a bit in my life. I currently live in the woods, in a beat-up little cabin where a good-sized creek oxbows and hardwoods give way to hemlocks. However, I’m not quite in the middle of nowhere; if you hop on a narrow, winding, poorly maintained country road and follow it for a few miles you’ll find yourself on the Main Street of a small, rural college town. College towns are fascinating little social ecosystems – a few thousand 18 to 23 year-olds in close proximity, navigating early adulthood, unsupervised for the first time in their lives, and learning those subtle differences between a get-together, a party, and utter chaos. All of which are beautiful in their own way.
I’m far too old for college parties now, but I remember them fondly. It’s not like young people ever need a reason to throw a party, but when they actually have a reason everything gets dialed up a notch. Spring Break, end of finals, random long weekend, holidays – call it a special occasion and folks start pouring drinks. Of course, among the various undergraduate populations we might encounter in the wild, two holidays stand out as paramount: Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. When overindulgence is encouraged it makes sense to expect overindulgence.
As we age we tend to focus more on family-centered holidays, and it’s easy for other holidays to fade to the background. I no longer live in a city with a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and so celebrating it now is as simple as claiming a barstool at one of my regular neighborhood joints – they’ll probably have a few decorations up and perhaps a special or two on the drink list or menu. They might have some of that terrifying and unnecessary green-dyed beer, but I can think of very few reasons to crack open one of those guys.
Guinness is already my go-to for after-work happy hours. Whiskey is already my drink of choice for relaxing at home. But since I’m lucky enough to get paid to explore different cocktails, I decided to reach out for some help in finding something interesting to drink for both St. Patrick’s Day and for any evening when I might want to mix up something a little different. I have a few mixology/cocktail books, and I’m decently-versed in Google and YouTube, but I also happen to have two very good friends in Ireland. So this past Saturday I sat on my porch, sipping my morning coffee, and called my favorite Dubliners.
They told me that though Guinness remains the most popular beer, Smithwick’s is gaining a lot of ground among Gen-X and younger. And they also mentioned that the craft brew scene is alive and well, with numerous independent breweries offering their pints to the island’s proud tradition. As we got to whiskeys and cocktails we had to cut the conversation short. They recently moved into a former council house made of uninsulated concrete – a chimney sweep showed up to do some cleaning and repairs so they can use their fireplace and beat back the winter chill. Before our farewells they told me to look into the Irish Maid – said it’s a drink I’d probably like. I looked into it and it turns out they were absolutely correct. Looks like I owe them a round next time I land in Dublin.
2oz Irish whiskey
1/2oz elderflower liqueur
2 slices cucumber, peeled and seeded
3/4oz simple syrup
3/4oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cucumber and/or lemon for garnish
Peel and seed a couple slices of cucumber – throw them into an empty shaker. Chill your rocks glass while you prepare the drink.
Muddle those cukes up good – cucumber juice is mostly water, so muddle until that fresh cucumber flavor is ready to blend into your booze.
Add your whiskey and elderflower liqueur.
Pour in your simple syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Add your ice and shake until cold.
Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish.
The Irish Maid is a relatively new cocktail, first mixed up by Belfast-native—and mixologist extraordinaire—Jack McGarry. Despite its young age it already appears on many Ireland drink guides, a testament to its quality. At first sip you might have difficulty believing that you’re drinking a cocktail. It’s so refreshing you might think you’re at a spa. The cucumber is gentle and refreshing, while the lemon gives a much-needed touch of citrus. The elderflower liqueur is floral and aromatic, a fascinating and unique addition to your home bar. And Irish whiskey is Irish whiskey – there’s a reason it’s called the water of life. So sit back and enjoy one of the most refreshing cocktails you’ll ever mix and pour. Sláinte!