There has always been something missing for me about St. Patrick’s Day. Despite growing up in an Irish family with an Irish name, I never felt at home in either of the two distinct crowds on St. Patrick’s Day. I wasn’t one for the green beer, “kiss me” t-shirt and shamrock-beaded blowouts, nor did I fit in with the all-day sing-alongs at my local Irish pub. My ideal St. Patrick’s Day was always somewhere between the two: both exciting and reverent, proud and progressive. St. Patrick’s Day was a day I always enjoyed, but it was never unforgettable– at least until I traveled to Dublin for the big show. I spent the holiday and the weekend before it in rock shows, speakeasies, steakhouses and the streets of Dublin between them. St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t a song or a slogan, it was a state of mind shared gracefully by the proud, the welcoming people of modern Ireland.
My St. Patrick’s Day experience began long before I traveled to Ireland for a customized experience from my friends at Jameson. I visited my own favorite Irish pub, Four Green Fields of Tampa, Florida, to explore the authenticity that can be had in a pub experience in the United States. In my own words, it is “the closest thing you can find to Irish soil in the American South”. It features a traditional thatched roof, the only one of its kind for a pub in the United States, and an interior that echoes the public houses of rural Ireland. There’s fish and chips and shepherd’s pie on the menu, plus pints of the black stuff and the whole offering of Jameson Irish Whiskey above the bar. It feels like a cottage pub in the Irish hills, but it has skyscrapers behind it and palm trees in front.
At Four Green Fields, a crowd of proud Irish Americans, both official and unofficial, were to gather on St. Patrick’s Day for song and drink and general merriment. My time, by contrast, was to be spent in Ireland with a new generation of Irish music but the very same drink that was enjoyed stateside…
Traveling to Ireland: County Cork and the Midleton Distillery
My experience in Ireland began in the small town of Midleton, County Cork, where farmers, brewers, distillers and coopers produce and mature fine Irish whiskey. At the New Midleton Distillery, over a million barrels of refined spirit age quietly before being blended into Jameson Irish Whiskey, a drink I became very close to during my stay in Ireland. I experienced the full lifespan of Jameson in a condensed window– I drove through fields of barley that would soon be brewed into beer. I watched as that beer was distilled into spirit. I studied how the different barrels impart their flavor into the spirit as it ages. I tasted every step in between, from the beer to the distilled spirit to the aging whiskey, directly from a barrel right off of the shelf. In a sense, I had backstage access to one of the most adored whiskeys in production today, and it was a moment I will not soon forget.
(read more: The Water of Life – Distilling the Jameson Story)
In Midleton, the full selection of Jameson Irish Whiskey is produced. There’s the tried-and-true hallmark, the triple-distilled Jameson Irish Whiskey that you and I know so well. There’s also a collection of reserve whiskeys produced on site, from Jameson Black Barrel to Jameson Gold Reserve and beyond. I ultimately left Ireland with a particular fondness for Jameson Black Barrel, a rich and complex whiskey with hints of toasted wood, vanilla and spice. The special part of this experience was that I could study, from beginning to bottle, what went in to producing this black-labeled beauty. A 5th generation cooper showed me the characteristics of the flame-charred bourbon barrels that aged part of the spirit that became Jameson Black Barrel. I had already seen the barley fields and the massive copper stills that produce the spirit, and after this education I was able to sip a glass of the fruits of their labor.
The spirit in the glass was a common element in my experience, from the first sip at Four Green Fields and throughout my travels in Ireland.
Rock and Roll in Dublin: A New Kind of St. Patrick’s Day
Back home, bar patrons were singing traditional Irish ballads that date back to the 19th century. In Dublin, I had a front row seat to some of Ireland’s most celebrated up-and-comers, including the White Lies, a Dublin-based band who just returned from a tour in the States. At Jameson Live, a concert in Dublin’s City Center, the White Lies performed for a full crowd on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, also featuring Funeral Suits and Darling. The music of White Lies and their opening acts is modern in spirit– guitar-driven rock-and-roll with synthesized textures and harmonized vocals. I was in the press pit at Jameson Live, with the crowd behind me and the band in front, listening to the latest music coming out of Ireland. Thousands of miles away, my friends and neighbors were singing centuries old Irish ballads at the top of their lungs.
By the time White Lies and Darling were warming up for their performances at Jameson Live, I had already been humming their top singles in my head for hours. The night before, Jameson had invited myself and the group of writers I was with to a private show at the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Our group of about 15 joined close to 100 guests from around the world. Jameson Irish Whiskey ambassadors from Kenya, from Mexico, from Australia and beyond were all in attendance, enjoying a private showing by the next night’s headlining acts. It was very much an international event, as people from around the world were invited to be here to experience St. Patrick’s Day in the way that modern Dubliner’s do it.
In total, both nights of music were Irish in origin and international in attendance. My new friends and I were raising our glasses of Jameson to each other, to the bands and our benefactors in spirit that brought us together. It was fresh and modern, but in line with the same Irish traditions that my friends and neighbors were celebrating back home.
The After-Party: Deep in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Weekend
Beyond the Old Jameson Distillery and The Ambassador Theatre, Dublin was alive with activity on St. Patrick’s eve. Our hosts at Jameson led us through the best new restaurants, the hottest cocktail bars and beyond during our travels through Dublin. On top of its ancient stone streets and storied history is a very vibrant, modern city with a progressive spirit. There are speakeasies and steakhouses, traditional pubs and modern dance clubs alike. Our group spent time in a bit of each. We had an afternoon snack (always on the rocks) at Grogan’s Pub, a famous meeting place for local writers and poets aiming to hone their craft over a pint or a tumbler. We had a craft cocktail at The Vintage Cocktail Club, a speakeasy-style lounge where you enter through a staircase then step down another to an intimate, close-quarters cocktail bar. The menu was impressive, but an off-the-menu Jameson Old Fashioned did me proud.
Mixed cocktails like that Old Fashioned were infrequent during my time in Dublin. While I did manage to enjoy a pint or two, the classic-label Jameson Irish Whiskey was my staple. I might have diverged more in a different city, but put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Days earlier, I was pulling the cork out of a sherry cask in Midleton to taste this spirit while it aged. I had just danced in a group with the very guy who built and maintained that sherry cask. I had driven through the fields where the barley grows that would become Jameson Irish Whiskey in many, many years. At this point, how could I order anything else? The smooth, floral flavors and all their spice and richness is one thing. Getting (and taking) this chance to live the legend was another thing entirely.
What I experienced in Dublin during the St. Patrick’s Day festivities was essentially the same as what my friends and neighbors were experiencing back home. The drinks in Dublin were the same as those on the bar back home. As it would have been at home, I was surrounded by people celebrating their Irish pride. The music, although modern in execution, was Irish in origin. Every moment and every experience was a celebration of Ireland even though it felt different from what I would have done at home. The meaning of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and the United States shares a common bond, but here in Ireland’s capital, the execution is as diverse and energetic as the new Irish identity.
My trip to Ireland re-defined my understanding of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish pride as a whole. It was told to me by friendly faces who approached me with a bottle of Jameson in one hand and two rocks glasses in the other. It shared the traditions I had heard for decades back home in the States, but its execution was modern in spirit. This place, and the people within it, was what was always missing about St. Patrick’s Day for me. Here in Dublin, there was a strong reverence to the traditions that built this storied country, but it continues to evolve and grow today.
Next St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll look to bring a little bit of that tradition and evolution with me to my own city. I’ll be sure to do so with a friendly face, and with a bottle of Jameson in one hand and two rocks glasses in the other.
Slainte, my friend.
Ultimately a product is only as good as the people who make it, and Jameson is made by real people, for real people. The care that goes into each bottle ensures every glass is warm and hospitable – whether its neat, mixed, or on the rocks – just like those who enjoy it. There is hard work and humanity behind every smooth ounce.
Jameson lives beyond St. Patrick’s Day through traditions held by groups of friends around the world. At family reunions and local dive bars, band practices and parties, in the happy hours and in the wee hours, Jameson brings people and communities together all year round.