More than one bartender I know has joked that today the amateurs are out; meaning those who don’t frequently belly up at McSwiggen’s for a whiskey and a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness (those given a two-part pour to ensure that creamy cap has time to rise) do their best to catch up on one afternoon.
Yup, we do love St. Patrick’s Day in this town, whether or not we’re one of the real Irish and Irish-Americans who reportedly call this city home. We’ve got the largest population in the country, so if your local pub doesn’t put out a tinfoil tray of pretty decent corned beef and cabbage made by the aging owner who only cooks once a year–or twice, if you count his Superbowl chili–you need only walk one block over. Just be careful of those staggering home from the parade.
Our publisher Brian Halweil likes to plant his sweet peas on St. Patrick’s Day, following agrarian custom. I, on the other hand, like to go out and mingle among the amateurs. (Okay, so does Brian, just after the pea-planting, and actually, I might plant some peas too, come to think of it.) And as luck would have it for this year, a few weeks back I had the pleasure of following Colum Egan, Bushmills’ master distiller, on a bar crawl through some of Times Square’s Irish pubs.
Egan, who heads up the Northern Ireland whiskey company’s production (Jameson, on the other hand, is in southern Ireland) taught us the meaning of Sláinte (it’s Gaelic for health, or more broadly, to your good health, and it’s pronounced something like slan-cha) and also lifted a glass while regaling us with of the country’s many classic toasts at every bar. (Egan recommends that to properly taste your whiskey, you should take a sip, then close your lips and draw a breath over your tongue. And over in Scotland, by the way, they call it whisky, with no “e.”)
Surprisingly, it was at our last stop at Pig n Whistle on W. 47th St. over a glass of Bushmills’ excellent and expensive single malt 21-year-old Irish whiskey (it pays to hang with the producer, eh?) where I was cognizant enough to take down the toast. It’s perhaps a bit cheesier than some of the others we’d heard by then—or that’s what I fuzzily recall, at least. But it’ll be spot on later tonight, when you’ll no doubt be arm in arm with your fellow Irishmen and women—which today is like, everybody!–if only so you can remain standing.
So here it goes, straight from the lips of a whiskey master: “There are tall ships, there are long ships, there are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.” Now pass the corned beef before I start to tear up.