Half Way to St. Pat’s! Is That Whiskey Left-Footed?

It’s the annual celebration of Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day and The Roaring Kelly Band jumps on stage at 4pm on Saturday, September 17, at HJ O’Connor’s in Delray Beach where we’ll get your spirits up with hard-driving reels, vicious jigs, jumping hornpipes, lilting waltzes, and enchanting airs as well as singing traditional ballads, Irish rebel songs, and rowdy drinking songs. Think of it as an Irish train-yer-liver party.

Speaking of Irish whiskey (after all, that’s a pretty sure means to train-yer-liver), I remember a fellow Irish-American from Detroit who sat with me at the pub and he asked the barkeep “What left-footed whiskeys do ya have?”  Being the ignorant muck-savage that I am, I asked him what he meant by a ‘left-footed’ whiskey. He promptly replied that ‘left-footed’ whiskey meant a Catholic whiskey. Now I was intrigued.  Was this type of whiskey only drunk by Catholics or was it distilled solely by Catholics, or was it simply blessed by the Monsignor? And what the heck did the right or left foot have to do with it?  Here’s what I found.

First, the ‘left-footed’ term for Catholics was based on a digging spade.  From the Guardian (UK), Hugh Cheape, from the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, explains:

“The saying turns on a traditional distinction between left- and right-handed spades in Irish agriculture. It has been used as a figure of speech and often, sadly, as a term of abuse to distinguish Protestants from Catholics: ‘He digs with the wrong foot.’ Most types of digging spade in Britain and Ireland have foot-rests at the top of their blades; two-sided spades have foot-rests on each side of the shaft and socket, while an older style of one-sided spade had only one. One-sided spades with narrow blades and a foot-rest cut out of the side of the relatively larger wooden shaft continued in use in the south and west. The rural population of Gaelic Ireland retained the Catholic faith and tended also to retain the one-sided spade and ‘dig with the wrong foot’. … the ‘wrong foot’ of the Catholics has come to be thought of as the left foot.”

Okay, Catholic and left-footed, I get it.  It’s a pejorative used against Catholics and held over from British colonization. Yup, I get it. Nevertheless, what kind of logic makes the term applicable to whiskey?

Apparently, the association of whiskeys with religion is based on geography.  Stick with me here.  Some consider Bushmills whiskey, which is manufactured in Northern Ireland to be the Protestant whiskey and Jameson whiskey, which is manufactured in the Republic of Ireland, to be the Catholic whiskey.  More interestingly, the religious slant appears to come from Irish-Americans more than those in the land of shamrocks and St. Patrick. According to Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Ask Your Bartender, the religious association is as complex as a Celtic knot and as bogus as a wooden nickel.

“Jameson was pretty much founded in 1780 when John Jameson – a Scottish guy – purchased the Bow Street Distillery, which at the time was one of the biggest distilleries in Ireland. Now, it’s important to note that the Scottish Reformation occurred in 1560, so odds are that the founder of the Jameson distillery, being Scottish, was a damn Protestant. Bushmills, on the other hand, was officially licensed in 1608 by King James I (of Bible fame) and despite of its location deep in the heart of Protestant country has a Catholic as a master distiller. … But none of it means much, anyway: both distilleries are owned by huge international entities: Jameson by French liquor conglomerate Pernod-Ricard, and Bushmills by the English firm Diageo.”

So there you have it. The lesson here is that whiskey is meant to be savored for its own taste and delightful, heady after effects. Choose whichever one you like best and enjoy it with some rambunctious good times with the Roaring Kelly Band at Half Way to St. Pat’s on Saturday, September 17 at HJ O’Connor’s in Delray Beach.  If you’re buying, I’ll have whatever you’re having, neat, thank you very much!

Guardian excerpt: https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1121,00.html
Ask Your Bartender excerpt: http://www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com/2010/ask-your-bartender-protestant-vs-catholic-whiskey/