For a holiday that is almost entirely about drinking, St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t have many good, holiday-appropriate drinks. There are really only three options: straight beer or whiskey, Car Bombs, or green beer. All three present problems: Plain stout or Jameson hardly feel festive, and even the most hardcore St. Paddy’s revelers — the kind who have a sunup to sundown drinking itinerary — should steer clear of food coloring and/or things containing Baileys.
Excellent Irish whiskey is one good option, but you will be nearly $100 poorer after buying a bottle of cask-strength RedBreast.
And so, you find yourself looking for an alternative, something festive that won’t break the bank. The Internet being what it is, when you search for “St. Patrick’s Day cocktails” or “alternatives to green beer,” you will find predictably dull alternatives. If, against your better judgment, you peruse those lists, you will find five consistent strategies for how to St. Paddify your drinks. Most are grim indeed, but there has to be something, right?
So my Sloshed booze lab assistant (a.k.a. my wife Sarah) and I tested a number of alternatives — employing the five St. Patrick’s Day Drink-Making Strategies (SPDDMSs) — to once and for all find a real drink for St. Patrick’s Day that is both holiday appropriate and also not gross.
Strategy 1: Drink alcohol that is already green.
By far the most consistent recommendation for St. Paddy’s Day drinks is to just drink something green. There isn’t much that’s naturally green (glowing Midori was out, thank God, since I bet even the people who work at Midori wouldn’t suggest drinking melon liqueur all day), so we were limited to Chartreuse, crème de menth, and some absinthes.
Sarah and I skipped drinking straight crème de menthe because we are not monsters. We skipped absinthe, too, since plenty of it is artificially colored as well (and it’s not really even all that green).
That left Chartreuse. Good coloring, but it’s very famously a French beverage. Also, it weighs in at 110 proof, so if you drank this all day you would be dead by mid-afternoon.
Verdict: This strategy has some flaws, to say the least. The only people who should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green Chartreuse are the French monks who make it.
Strategy 2: Use green food to make your drinks green.
We moved on to green colored cocktails, which is the bulk of the recommendations from the experts at the lady mags. The recipe I followed, a drink called the Emerald Mary, includes the following green ingredients: lime, tomatillos, avocado, cilantro, and celery. You blend those together with vodka and hot sauce. There is nothing even remotely St. Paddy’s-feeling about this drink and, as Sarah pointed out, it tastes like watery salsa.
Verdict: Only go this route if your goal is to do a St. Patrick’s Day juice cleanse.
Strategy 3: Drink something symbolically Irish.
A smaller, more clever set approaches St. Paddy’s drink-making not by trying to turn their drinks green, but by trying to make their drinks look like something else “Irish.”
The most novel in this category is the Irish Flag Shooter, wherein you layer Grand Marnier on top of Baileys on top of crème de menthe in a shot glass to re-create the Irish flag’s color bars — and damn if it doesn’t look at least slightly like the Irish flag turned on its side. But also: It tastes terrible. Grand Mariner, Baileys, and crème de menthe shouldn’t be on the same shelf together, let alone in the same drink.
Verdict: If you’re sober enough to properly layer a drink like this, you are not nearly drunk enough to ignore the taste. Skip this strategy at all costs.
Strategy 4: Use the flavors of St. Patrick’s Day to make a drink.
Of course, some holidays have more drink-appropriate ingredients than others (Christmas has nutmeg, Valentine’s Day has berries), and the food of St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t exactly scream “cocktail.” But that’s what makes Richard Blais’s Corned Beef and Cabbage Collins so extraordinary.
As in the best of molecular mixology, it is a shock-and-awe approach to drink-making. Blais’s recipe involves meat drippings, cabbage water, and some complicated system for capturing smoke that no normal human being will really understand. But so I made a version of it (substituting liquid smoke and sparing myself the step of cooking an entire corned beef), and it wasn’t that bad. The smoke was nice with the sugar and citrus of the Collins base.
Sarah refused — refused — to even try this one.
Verdit: This is a surprisingly okay drink. It’s silly, though, and it sounds gross, so it’s definitely not for most people (Sarah included).
Strategy 5: Just make a drink with whiskey or Guinness.
It turns out the best drinking advice is as true on Saint Patrick’s Day as it is on most other days: Eliminate the frippery and stick to the basics. Sure, Guinness and whiskey drinks won’t be green, but they’ll be good. The trick is to make each seem festive.
For whiskey: In the entire cocktail canon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a drink that relies solely on Irish whiskey. There is, though, the Emerald, which is really just a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey instead of American whiskey. Sure, it doesn’t look festive, but drinking an Emerald on St. Patrick’s Day is like wearing green underwear: Something’s definitely up, but in a private way known only to you and anyone who sees fit to ask.
For beer: I am a believer that you can combine equal parts Champagne and pretty much anything and have a good drink. The Black Velvet — which is equal parts Champagne and Guinness — upholds this theory. Let us count the virtues: It is dead simple to make; it tastes exactly as good as you imagine it will when you see the words “Black” and “Velvet”; it contains Champagne, which is the world’s most festive of drinks; and as long as you keep the can of Guinness around (or ask the bartender to serve you this drink in a Guinness pint glass), it looks Irish enough.
Verdict: These drinks are what you want to be drinking. In fact, both options are so good that you will consider making them part of your regular-drinking reptoire, just as Sloshed has.
Matthew Latkiewicz writes about drinking and other subjects at You Will Not Believe. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Wired, Time.com, Boing Boing, and Gastronomica. Follow him on Twitter.
Related: Sloshed: How to Drink Your Way Through the Entirety of Saint Patrick’s Day