St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t have to be just for eating corned beef and swigging some green beer. Here are some of the strange celebrations in the U.S.
Which beers and wines complement corned beef and cabbage? Make your St. Patrick’s Day a delicious one with the right beverage pairings.
St. Patrick’s Day 2020 is the marker in my memory. It’s when the world as we knew it stopped spinning. One of the biggest party days of the year was widely canceled as this unprecedented pandemic began to take shape.
Restaurants and bars stocked and ready for an influx of green-clad patrons were literally left holding the bill. When a group of close friends moved their celebration to a small gathering at home last year, it turned out to be one of the best St. Patrick’s Day meals I’ve ever had.
It was then that I found peace with pairing Irish food and adult beverages.
St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t have much of a reputation for foodie finesse: green beer under tents, Irish shots, baskets with corned beef and cabbage and such. However, corned beef can be darn good, so why not elevate the party with better beverage pairings.
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Beer is one of the first beverages that come to mind on St. Paddy’s Day.
While there is no right or wrong, thick rich stouts such as Guinness are not the best mate for corned beef and cabbage. It’s hard for some to imagine this annual celebration without a beautiful dark glass of the famous creamy brew, so by all means indulge.
However, if you want a beer that pairs best with the beef, try something lighter, an Irish ale such as Smithwick’s. It’s a little fresher, a little sweeter, a lot more complementary to the salty meat.
Corned beef is typically made from beef brisket that is salted and brined, sometimes for days, in a vinegar solution that can contain spices such as bay leaves, juniper, mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander and more. It’s then slow cooked. The same juices are used to cook cabbage, carrots and potatoes that are served on the side.
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Since juniper is often used when seasoning corned beef, it would seem logical to invite gin to the celebration. Juniper is the signature botanical in this spirit and there are some fantastic gins from Ireland.
Grace O’Malley Irish Gin is a great example. It’s even more appropriate during March, which is Women’s History Month. The brand is named after a famous female trailblazer from the 16th century. What makes this gin so unique is that it is infused with heather, the purple flowering plant that carpets Ireland’s countryside.
Heather gives a floral characteristic to this gin, a bit of sweetness too. Juniper is present on the palate along with a hint of blueberry. A simple way to enjoy Grace O’Malley is with aromatic or elderflower tonic over ice, with a twist of lemon or lime, as an aperitif or with your corned beef.
Finding a St. Paddy’s wine pairing can be challenging, mostly due to the lack of choices found under the party tents. During last year’s at-home celebration, I happened to be sheltering with a chef and wine importer. Finding the perfect wine for our Irish meal felt like an Olympic sport: opening bottles, alternating sips with bites.
This is one of those times where the stereotype of big red wine with beef does not fit. Opt for those lighter in body with good acidity, lower in alcohol and tannins, as well as those with herbaceous qualities.
Sonoma Coast pinot noir from Ram’s Gate ($48) is a good example. The 2018 blend is different from the previous vintage, and while it has some of the earthy qualities for which pinot is famous, it also has a spicy freshness and great texture. Let it breathe a little and enjoy how it opens and changes with oxygen and the food.
Also, think about serving malbecs from the Valle de Uco area of Mendoza, Argentina, which is cooler and produces fruit that’s not quite so jammy. The 2018 Bodegas Caro Aruma Malbec smells jammy, but it has nice acidity, dark fruit and that fresh herbaceous quality that comes alive with a meat like corned beef. At $15 a bottle, it’s also a great deal.
Surprising for some, white wines such as viognier and dry Rieslings are a dream with corned beef and cabbage. Avoid oaky, buttery chardonnays, though other chards work well. I took a chance on a crisp Giant Steps chardonnay from Australia, and to my relief it worked magnificently, thanks to bright citrus flavors, minerality and a touch of salinity.
I’ve also had success with Chateau de Ripaille ($15), an interesting white from Savoie on the French side of Lake Geneva. Medium body with minerals, citrus and dried fruit, it also has some interesting honey notes to complement a salty brine.
A perfect St. Paddy’s Day party almost has to include Irish whiskey in a cocktail, as a shot or a sipper. We ended our 2020 night with Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve, served neat. From double-charred barrels, it’s nutty spicy and smooth. Jameson is arguably the most well-known Irish whiskey, and the brand makes numerous blends.
For some, St. Patrick’s Day 2021 may be the breakout celebration from the COVID fog. Others are still keeping it close to home. Either way, try upping the ante with beer, wine and cocktails that truly complement the food this year. And may the luck o’ the Irish be with you.
Off the Eaten Path spotlights local, independent restaurants across Southwest Florida. Gina Birch writes about food and wine for The News-Press and at thebirchbeat.blogspot.com. Follow her as @ginabirch on Twitter and find her on Facebook.
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