The Controversial Origin Of The Irish Car Bomb Cocktail

Irish car bomb in glass
Irish car bomb in glass - Instagram/mestrecervejeiro

The Shakespearian question "What's in a name?" may be rhetorical in nature but, in reality, a name can be significant in many ways. That's especially true when applied to an Irish car bomb cocktail. The controversial yet popular cocktail is Irish in the sense that its three ingredients are Irish to the core: a pint of Guinness, a shot of Jameson Irish whiskey, and Bailey's Irish cream. The brands can be interchangeable with other Irish whiskeys and creams, but that's about the only leeway in composition. As for the name, that's another matter.

Fortunately, the deeply sensitive name Irish car bomb is open to adaptation, with modern incarnations retaining the core ingredients but presenting under monikers such as Irish slammer or Irish shot. The reason for the rebranding comes down to history, with the car bomb reference reflecting a particularly volatile and tragic decades-long conflict starting in the 1960s, generally referred to as the Troubles. Regional conflicts involving the independent Republic of Ireland and the British-controlled Northern Ireland led to continuing violence, often in the form of car bombings.

On a particularly tragic day in 1972, known as Bloody Friday, 20 car bombs killed and injured many in the city of Belfast. The event and its aftermath remain a sensitive subject amongst Irish people, which is why you won't likely hear an Irish car bomb cocktail ordered in Irish or English pubs. In fact, the origin of the cocktail and its name comes from America.

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What's In A Name?

Irish car bomb slammer
Irish car bomb slammer - Instagram/casadorockarapongas

The Irish car bomb cocktail hails from Wilson's Saloon in Norwich, Connecticut. It was created in 1979 by then-owner Charles Burke Cronin Oat. At the time, Oat had already used the name IRA for a Bailey's and Jameson shot, and it spontaneously morphed into the Irish car bomb or Belfast car bomb after he dropped one of the shots into a glass of Guinness and yelled "bombs away!" Why he chose that name is an obvious reference to the car bombings in Ireland, but that's not the only reason. The shot glass filled with Irish cream and Irish whiskey gets vigorously dropped into the waiting glass of Guinness, causing the boiling sensation and liquid "explosion."

Oat explained the story of the Irish car bomb in an article titled "The CARBOMB: The Creation of An Historic Cocktail" published by Bar None Drinks. In the piece, he acknowledged in a final note that names do matter. Cautioning future cocktail creators to beware, he reiterated that a drink could become famous, so its name should be picked carefully. He also admitted that the names Car bomb and IRA may seem cool in a bar setting, but in reality -- not so cool. If you do order the triple-whammy cocktail that is now called an Irish slammer or Irish shot, be aware of the high alcohol content.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.