Made with Irish whiskey, this elixir is perfect for St. Pat’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon. So how about a drink?
We suggest the Blackthorn (sometimes spelled Blackthorne), which mixes Irish whiskey with sweet vermouth, absinthe, and bitters.
It’s bracing and tasty. And just right for getting your Irish on.
Recipe: The Blackthorn Cocktail
The Blackthorn is an old cocktail, dating back to the 19th century. There actually are several versions of the drink, including some that contain gin or sloe gin. Our favorite is one that uses Irish whiskey.
An iteration of the Irish-whiskey version was included in The Savoy Cocktail Book, published during the 1930s. However, that version called for equal parts of whiskey and sweet vermouth – a rather unbalanced drink, in our opinion (the flavor of the whiskey tends to disappear).
We prefer a whiskey-forward formula, the version Gary Regan mixes in The Joy of Mixology. Essentially, this version is an Irish whiskey Manhattan Cocktail, but with absinthe added as a curveball.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces Irish whiskey
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (Italian red vermouth)
- ¼ ounce absinthe or pastis (or to taste; see Notes)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters (or to taste)
- lemon twist for garnish (optional)
- Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir until well-chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces air bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. (That doesn’t matter when some of the ingredients are opaque – think citrus juice.)
- But shake anyway if that’s your preference. We won’t tell, because we often do it ourselves.
- A maraschino cherry is the traditional garnish for a Manhattan. We don’t think that works well in this drink, however, because of the absinthe (the flavors clash). A lemon twist is excellent, however.
- Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. For years, it was illegal in the US and much of Europe (one of its ingredients was thought to be psychoactive and addictive). As a substitute, people would use a “pastis” like Pernod, which did not contain the problematic ingredient. The flavor of pastis is very similar to absinthe, and we often use it.
- BTW, “pastis” is just the generic French name for anise-flavored liqueur that resembles absinthe. It’s usually of quite good quality, and cheaper than absinthe.
- Real absinthe is back on the market now, so you might prefer to use that. It tends to be rather pricey, though. Not to mention high proof (100+).
- Because absinthe (or pastis) has such a strong flavor, you may want to use a bit less than we suggest in the recipe.
- Which Irish whiskey to use? The one you happen to have on hand, we say! Most liquor stores stock only a handful of brands, but all the ones we’ve tried work fine in cocktails.
- This drink, as the name suggests, is named after a shrub called the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Its fruit — called “sloes” — are much like small plums, though too tart to be eaten out of hand. It’s from this fruit that sloe gin is made.
- So it’s not surprising that there’s a version of this drink made with sloe gin. If you’d like to try it, here’s a recipe: 2 ounces sloe gin, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, and a dash or two of bitters (no absinthe). We’ve also seen a version that calls for 1½ ounces sloe gin, 1 ounce dry gin, ¾ ounce sweet vermouth, and 2 or 3 dashes of orange bitters.
- There’s yet another version of the Blackthorn that is championed by cocktail expert Ted Haigh. This one calls for 2 ounces dry gin, ¾ ounce red Dubonnet, and ¾ ounce kirschwasser. It’s a tasty libation.
“Beautiful drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Great flavor, too. Makes me feel quite mellow and relaxed.”
“Lucky thing I learned about the Blackthorn,” I said. “Wouldn’t want you to feel anguished on St Patrick’s Day.”
“So it’s the luck of the Irish, you might say?” asked Mrs K R.
“Indeed,” I said. “Shall we extend our lucky streak with another of these?”
“Just one more,” said Mrs K R. “Or else it might be the snoring of the green.”
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