For those of us in the US, St. Patrick’s Day is an odd occasion – a religious observance that has also become a catch-all celebration of Irish (and Irish-American) culture, a festival that’s named for a Christian missionary but has become synonymous with shamrocks and leprechauns and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts.
And as the church celebration is based around lifting Lenten restrictions on food and drink, St. Patrick’s has inevitably become a popular day of revelry in secular circles as well – a time for libations to flow freely, for one and all to consume their fill.
So with this in mind, I’ve once again dipped into my archives and come up with a variety of vintage booze-themed materials celebrating Irish beverage, Irish culture, and the excitement of March 17th – with nary a green-colored beer in sight!
It’s a bit strange to realize, for example, that Irish Whiskey kept a very low profile in the US through much of the 20th Century – the Irish War Of Independence came to a close right as America fell under the curtain of Prohibition, and once the 18th Amendment was repealed and alcohol sales became legal again, the small Irish liquor companies were in no position to compete with Canada, Scotland, or even the US’s own reawakened distilleries. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Bushmills and Jameson began to get comprehensive advertising campaigns and a respectable marketshare, and impress themselves on a larger American audience.
In fact, as the above ads demonstrate, Irish distilleries spent most of their mid-century ad budgets defining themselves in relation to the increasingly popular ‘Irish Coffee’ – either as a vital ingredient, or (as in the case of Bushmills) taking the opposite tack and professing to be too good for such foolishness.
But while actual Irish companies struggled for a foothold, other companies wasted no time in claiming part of the Irish identity for themselves. Canadian Club released a pair of travelogue-style ads set in Ireland.
Smirnoff Vodka gave TV actress Erin O’Brien a green hat and a screwdriver, and used her in one of their popular celebrity-themed ads, with the dubious tagline “Even The Irish Like Orange This Way!”
Irish Mist conducted an early-’70s campaign attempting to cash in on the mystique of their homeland, claiming “legendary” status, and hyping themselves as one of “Ireland’s Opulent Gifts To The World”.
And domestic breweries also did their best to align themselves with the Gaelic drinking tradition, and cash in on the St. Patrick’s bar crowds.
But as ever, nobody could beat the Irish at their own game. If anybody could come up with over-the-top holiday-themed promotions, it was be the companies from the old country.
And as usual when compiling one of these archival articles, I don’t limit myself to sifting through advertising – there’s also an entire world of vintage cocktail recipes out there! Surely, there must be some delicious Irish-themed concoction that I can mix up for my celebrations this year!
…Or maybe not. (Irish Whiskey + Rum + Sloe Gin? Hmmn… I think I’ll pass.) I guess I’ll just stick with my original plan: get a nice bottle of whiskey (say, Kilbeggan), have a few friends over, and conduct a ceremonial double-feature of The Quiet Man and Finian’s Rainbow.
And however you choose to spend your St. Patrick’s Day, all of us here at The Alcohol Professor wish you fun, good company, and excellent beverages!