It is St. Patrick's Day, a time to remind ourselves while eating the traditional corned beef and cabbage (which will be popping up on every restaurant menu) that the All-American salt-cured brisket dish is as native to Ireland as fajitas is to Mexico or General Tso's chicken from China. It is also the perfect occasion to ponder questions like, “Is there such a thing as a wine alternative to green beer?”
So we decided to turn to CUT Steakhouse's beverage director and sommelier Dana Farner, famously compared to “an indie-rock goddess” by Jonathan Gold in his 2008 cover story on L.A. wine culture and deemed “one of the best around” by Bon Appétit, to get some St. Patrick's Day drinking tips. Here, she explains how to make the perfect Irish coffee, why Jameson's is the Irish Catholic whiskey of choice and that her Irish friends won't be found hoisting mugs of grass-tinted suds anytime soon. Turn the page…
Squid Ink: St. Patrick's Day is upon us. What should we be drinking?
Dana Farner: The first thing that's important is Irish coffee. It's a great way to celebrate the holiday. But it should be drunk with caution. The mixture of alcohol with caffeine is always dangerous…
SI:..Tell that to the lovers of 23.5 ounce out-of-control party in a can known as Four Loko…
DF:..But with that caveat, Irish coffee is a beautiful thing. It is best to contain yourself to one or maybe two Irish coffees. Then if you still feel like drinking more whiskey, you can have a little Irish whiskey on its own. After that you should move to beer so you can keep going for the rest of night. Beer is very refreshing.
SI: Although some claim that the Buena Vista café in San Francisco introduced Irish coffee to Americans, there are many more who insist that Tom Bergin's Tavern on Fairfax Avenue was its launching pad. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, tell us: Is there a proper way to make an Irish coffee?
DF: Yes. The proper way is to put a little raw sugar at the bottom of the glass, add an ounce or an ounce and a half of Irish whiskey, some hot coffee then fresh whipped cream. Not too whipped, though. Soft whipped cream. And it should not be mixed in. It's put on top in order to cool and to flavor each sip. So there should be that beautiful cap of whipped cream on top of the coffee throughout the entire drink to keep the heat in but cool [the beverage] when it goes into your mouth.
SI: Sing the praises of Irish whiskey.
DF: Irish whiskey is often overlooked and undermined. People look at scotch as this very profound, elegant drink. But Irish whiskey has just as long a history — and it doesn't have that crazy peat-y aroma. Have you tasted Irish whiskey? Scotch whiskey is a bit harsher. Irish whiskey always has a nice hint of sweetness, like a bourbon but considerably lighter. Did you know that [the makers of] Jameson's are Catholic and Bushmill's is Protestant? My Irish Catholic friends will not touch Bushmill's.
SI: Okay, so you drink your Irish coffee, sip a little bit of Irish whiskey and move on to beer for the rest of the night. What kind of beer?
DF: Guinness is good, but hard to do for the whole night so you probably want an ale, not a lager. I think drinking a lager on St. Patrick's Day is wussing out. So if not Guinness, then Smithwick's. Smithwick's is a nice, hearty cream ale.
SI: Smithwick's! The major producer of ale in all of Ireland and considered one of the top five best tasting beers by the McHale beer rating club of Ireland! Is there such a thing as a great wine from the Emerald Isle?
DF: I have heard of a few British wineries that are doing well. I have not heard of any Irish wineries that are doing well at all. There's Owen Roe who came from Ireland and is making pinot noir in Oregon and cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Washington state. I had his most reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon on our list. It was a really beautiful straight-forward new world style cabernet for a remarkably reasonable price. It was called Owen Roe Sharecroppers. It's from Columbia Valley, Washington. It was one of the least expensive bottles on our list.
SI: So a case could be made that if you drink Owen Roe's wine you are staying within the anything-green, anything-clover-shaped, anything Irish theme of St. Patrick's Day.
DF: [pauses, in a very diplomatic voice] You know, I have some really good Irish friends. And they LOVE wine. But I have never seen a wine bottle anywhere near ANY of them on St. Patrick's Day — and I have never seen them drink a green beer.
SI: Duly noted. We're at your Irish friends' house and we're celebrating St. Patrick's Day. There is beer and there is Irish whiskey. What are we eating?
DF: [again, diplomatically] I've got to say, it's usually not about food. [laughs] I lived in New York for a while and it's a HUGE holiday there — and it's not really about food there, either. It's just drinking. It's dangerous. It's not right. But in my experience that's the tradition.
For St. Patrick's Day, CUT will be offering a special bar meal of house smoked Kobe beef pastrami sandwich on dark rye Pumpernickel served with an ounce of Bushmill's 16 and an ounce of Jameson's 18 and a Guinness.