Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – It’s Saint Patrick’s day, when thoughts turn to all things Irish in some households (mine), starting with the first drink of the day.
In my case, it was a fine cuppa, from a new packet of Bewley’s Irish tea, some of the best breakfast tea around, served by my husband in one of my favourite mugs, made by Irish potter Nick Mosse. This is how every day should start, not just 17 March.
If I were in Ireland I would certainly head out to the pub today. One of life’s great joys, when you get past thinking you’re drinking petrol, is nursing a slowly pulled pint of Guinness from a pub where everyone else is drinking it. I’m serious: if no one else in the pub is having the stuff, find another pub.
And if you’re drinking your Guinness outside of Ireland, some will say you’re not getting the real thing.
I probably wouldn’t imbibe in two other Irish contributions to the world of great beverages, but I am happy recommending them. A dinner followed by Bailey‘s on ice, that curious blend of cream and whisky, is a fine way to end the day. Bailey’s ice cream is quite good, for those who prefer solids to liquids.
Purists will take their whiskey straight, and so they should if they have access to the best. Ireland is right up there with Scotland for this.
And a reminder, from a nephew who enjoys his Irish heritage, the whiskey or just about anything else, without the devil of a bit of music, isn’t quite Irish, is it? A classic, from the Clancy Brothers, to ease you into the business of Irish drinking and more (Sláinte!):
Loose and dark and Irish: great tea
Bewley’s on Grafton Street in Dublin has long had a reputation for coffee, but it started on something of a tea gamble. The Irish were not yet tea drinkers in 1835 when an Irish father and son team broke the East India company’s stranglehold on the business, or so Bewley’s history has it. The pair imported 2,099 chests of tea into Ireland hoping to convince the Irish to drink it. Today the company says more than 600 million cups of their tea and coffee are made every year.
Irish breakfast tea is not the same as English breakfast tea: the first is a blend that usually has a good deal of Assam, making it a strong tea, while English tea often blends Assam with Ceylon or Kenyan tea, and it tends to have a more golden tone. Bewley’s version of Irish tea is a high-grade strong blend of mountain Assam and Darjeeling teas, blended in India. The loose tea in a box shown here requires a trip to Dublin or a truly kind friend who’s just been there.
The perfect home brewed means brewed at home, aka Ireland
A battle has raged for years among fans of stout, over whether it is true that the best Guinness is in Ireland. The subject has kept pubs open late for years, while patrons debate it. The brewery thought to put an end to the arguments and sell more of its brew around the world by testing it: their judges concluded a Guinness here is as good as a Guinness there.
The Irish can be stubborn, however. MSNBC, which has a wonderful article today on the scientific side of what makes Guinness foam, mentions that four researchers concluded that Guinness in Ireland is the best.
If you think they’re taking the mickey out of us you’re wrong, for the serious Journal of Food Science has published their results. “This difference remained statistically significant after adjusting for researcher, pub ambience, Guinness appearance, and the sensory measures mouthfeel, flavor, and aftertaste.” The panel of four “non-expert judges” was researching the question, “does Guinness travel well” and they concluded that “the enjoyment of Guinness consumed in Ireland was rated higher” by a statistically significant difference.
And then there’s the whiskey
The world’s first whiskey license was handed out by an English monarch, in 1608, to an Irish distillery. They’d been perfecting the recipe and technique created by monks some 500 years earlier. Bushmills, for that was the brewery, was a name I grew up with, my father’s treasured beverage (1 jigger on the rocks, tiny splash of water), something he had every workday in Iowa, in the US, when he came home. It marked the hour between the office or the road, for he travelled a good deal, and the evening with family. It was a sacred hour: we children were not, under any circumstances, allowed to bother him. Shoes off, feet up, newspaper in front of him, the glass of Bushmills next to him.
In my 30s I was sent to Bushmills by a US travel magazine for part of an article on Northern Ireland. When I told the head of the distillery that my father was one of their most loyal fans and that I hadn’t realized for years they were quite famous beyond our household, he gave me a very special tie and a bottle of Black Bush to take to my dad, who was thrilled. He treasured them for years, along with the photos I took of the beautiful distillery on the coastline, not far from the Giant’s Causeway, where the Irish mythological hero Finn McCool built stepping stones to Scotland.
Tip: a dram of whiskey helps warm you to the local tales.
How the whiskey made friends with the cream
I’ve just learned that Baileys and I were born together, back in 1951. I was only 9 months in the making, but the mix of cream and alcohol was two years in the making, in order to find a recipe that would blend the two and allow them to stay together in a stable manner. Here’s what wikipedia has to say about it:
“Baileys was the first 44% liqueur to use cream, honey, coffee, cocoa and alcohol together in a manner sufficiently stable to allow commercial distribution. The alcohol in Baileys is produced from a bacterial fermentation of whiskey. The cream and alcohol, together with some whiskey are homogenized to form an emulsion, with the aid of an emulsifier containing refined vegetable oil. This process prevents separation of the whiskey and cream during storage. The quantity of other ingredients is not known but they include natural herbs and sugar.”
Two important points are that no preservatives are required to keep the cream from going off and that the lush rolling hills of Kilkenny in southern Ireland have been supplying the cream from the area’s happy cows for the past 30 years. The blending and bottling are done in Dublin.
Baileys offers you a chance to meet the cows, learn more about its Irish cream and have a cheerful bit of the crack, online.
Saint Patrick, by the way, has contributed only his feast day to the Irish love of a good drink, but that’s quite a lot if you look at 17 March consumption of Irish beverages, I suspect.