With St. Patrick’s Day on the 17 March, we’re mixing up a classic Irish whiskey-based cocktail which might have you singing a famous song. It’s the Tipperary!

One of the most unforgettable scenes from a film full of great moments is in Das Boot where all the German World War Two submariners put on a gramophone record and sing along, badly, to ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. Meanwhile the political officer looks on disapprovingly at the men singing an enemy song. 

The song was originally written for and sung by homesick Irishmen but it tapped into a universal nostalgia for home and a weariness with war. It was first performed in 1912 and quickly became part of the popular culture of Europe and America.

A man walks into a bar

And like much popular culture in the early 20th century, it inspired a cocktail too. The story goes that in 1916 a customer walked into the bar at the Hotel Wallick in New York singing the song, and asked for a drink. On the spot, the bar manager Hugo Ensslin came up with the Tipperary. He put it in his 1917 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks specifying equal parts Chartreuse, Bushmills Irish whiskey and sweet vermouth

Or the other story is that Ensslin invented the cocktail to cash in on the visit to New York of Irish tenor John McCormack, the most famous singer of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’.

This equal parts version shaken with ice and served straight up is the one that appears in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book under the name Tipperary Cocktail No. 1. There’s also a rather strange sounding Tipperary Cocktail No. 2 which is totally different, mixing orange juice, grenadine, French vermouth, gin and fresh mint. Must try it one day. It’s the no. 2 that is listed in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

To further muddy the waters, the 1935 Waldorf Astoria cocktail book contains a third Tipperary which it says was “invented long before the wartime song of the same name was heard, so it must be considered a direct namesake of the Irish county, and so-called by a fond exile.” It contains two parts sloe gin, one part French vermouth and a teaspoon of lemon juice. It doesn’t say what you do with the ingredients but we imagine shaking with ice and serving straight up would suit the cocktail well. Very nice but not terribly Irish. 

Cocktail of the Week: The Tipperary

Modern variations

Nowadays, the Irish whiskey, Chartreuse, sweet vermouth version is canonical. But it’s often made heavy on the whiskey to suit drier tastes. Two parts whiskey to one part each Chartreuse and Vermouth makes it not dissimilar to a Boulevardier. Or you could try a version created by Gaz Regan from Dead Rabbit in San Francisco, a 4:2:1 ratio of whiskey, vermouth and Chartreuse. He writes:

The Savoy’s Tipperary Cocktail (No. 1) calls for equal parts Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth and green Chartreuse…. This is the formula I decided to play with when I gave myself the task of pimping this drink. I love Chartreuse, so this was an easy decision. Chartreuse, as you might know, is a heavy-duty herbal liqueur and, as such, it’s an ingredient that ought to be handled judiciously when one is indulging in cocktailian pursuits, lest it mask the other ingredients. I cut back on the vermouth in the new formula. Or perhaps I added more whiskey. I’ll let you decide. The new drink sips quite well, though. The vermouth plays well with the whiskey, and the Chartreuse merely dances in the backdrop, making itself known, but not going anywhere near center stage.”

However you make it, use a quality Irish whiskey with a good dose of pot still to it, we recommend Powers Gold Label Distiller’s Cut, and a decent sweet vermouth. It’s usually stirred over ice  and served straight up but there’s no reason why you could serve it on ice like a Negroni. Because of its name, colour and the presence of Irish whiskey, it makes a great drink to see in St Patrick’s Day but we think it’s much too good to serve only once a year.

Incidentally, the story of the song is almost as complicated as the cocktail. You might be surprised to hear that it was written by two Englishmen, albeit one of Irish descent: Jack Judge, whose parents were from Mayo, and Harry Williams. But then again Shane MacGowan was born in Tunbridge Wells.

How to make the Tipperary cocktail

35ml Powers Gold Label Distiller’s Cut
35ml Green Chartreuse
35ml Martini Rosso vermouth

Stir thoroughly over ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Serve with an orange or lemon twist while singing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ in a thick German accent.