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Why the Irish Car Bomb Is St. Patrick’s Day's Most Controversial Drink

Beloved by some, but not all.

Shutterstock/Patricia Hofmeester

Even though the Irish Car Bomb has been synonymous with many a raucous St. Patrick’s Day blowout, Irish people, even Irish Americans, take offense to it. Why does this beer cocktail inspire feelings of loathing despite being made with three beloved Irish ingredients and serving as the bringer of joy to 20-somethings in sports bars everywhere?

The Irish Car Bomb — which consists of a shot glass filled with half Jameson Irish Whiskey and half Baileys Irish Cream dropped into half a pint glass of Guinness Stout — was invented in 1979 by Charles Burke Cronin Oat at Wilson’s Saloon in Connecticut. Oat is now the owner of Connecticut School of Bartending situated in the same building as the former saloon.

The Irish Car Bomb is a variation of a shot Oat created called the Grandfather, made from a simple mix of Baileys Irish Cream and Kahlua. Later he added Jameson to the shot and renamed the drink "IRA." It wasn’t until Oat decided to drop the IRA shot into a pint of Guinness that he was inspired to call it the Belfast Car Bomb, aka the Irish Car Bomb, pointing to the mini explosion caused by dropping the shot glass into the Guinness. Not, as some believe, in reference to the IRA's explosive attack against Northern Ireland on July 21, 1972 in which they detonated more than 20 car bombs in Belfast.

The quickest way to get thrown out of a pub (or get a black eye) in Ireland is to order an Irish Car Bomb. Understandably, the drink’s name upsets IRA victims groups and those who remember the day that became known as Bloody Friday. Many equate it to someone inventing a 9/11-inspired depth charge called "Flaming Twin Towers" or "Manhattan Ground Zero" and ordering one of those in New York.

But back in the '80s, word of the Irish Car Bomb spread thanks to Navy personnel who patronized Oat’s bar. A Guinness marketing campaign in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s fueled its popularity, causing Oat to rethink his name choice. "If you invent a drink such as the Car Bomb, as I did so long ago, beware! You never know if it might become famous, so pick the name carefully. IRA and Car Bomb are 'cool' in the bar scene, but in the reality of today NOT," wrote Oat in his essay, The Car Bomb: The Creation of An Historic Cocktail.

Three decades ago St. Patrick's Day revelers ordered Irish Car Bombs with abandon, but nowadays there's a knee-jerk reaction to anything bearing the name, be it a cake cup, cupcake, or beer. Even the corporate entities behind Jameson, Baileys, and Guinness avoid the drink, neglecting to mention it in any of their St. Patrick's Day promotions. A noteworthy omission considering how popular the libation is on the biggest drinking holiday of the year.

Not to say the name has turned people off from wanting that flavor combination. "Irish Car Bombs are delicious. I haven't had one in years, but they definitely bring back fond memories. We don't carry any Baileys at the bar, but if we did we'd serve them up gladly," said barman Erick Castro of Boilermaker in New York.

Despite an unofficial movement to rename this depth charge, by now the moniker is so recognizable and so firmly ensconced in the cocktail lexicon that a name change would be difficult to pull off.

Photos: Caroline Pardilla

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