According to Charles Oat, the bartender who invented the “Irish Car Bomb,” the controversial drink was just one of those things that happen in a bar.
It started on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, with a shot that combined Jameson Irish whiskey, Kahlua, and Bailey’s Irish Cream, which was brand-new to the US at the time. The way Oat poured the shots at his pub, Wilson’s Saloon in Norwich, Connecticut, created a roiling reaction, which inspired the shot’s name, “IRA”—a reference to the Irish Republican Army, the paramilitary group. Oat often served a Guinness on the side.
“We didn’t think anything of it,” Oat, who now runs the Connecticut School of Bartending, told the Guardian. “Then I was looking down the bar an hour later and people were saying, can I have one of those IRAs they’re drinking?” Some years later, Oat said, he got the idea to drop the shot, glass and all, into his half-finished pint of Guinness. “We just said ‘Bombs away!'”
The name, Oat maintains, described the explosive reaction of the sweet, creamy shot dropped into the stout, and was never intended to make light of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the decades-long conflict that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,500 people, more than half of them civilians. It seems clear that Oat never considered the lives lost in the Troubles to be trivial: “If you invent a drink such as the Carbomb, as I did so long ago, beware! You never know if it might become famous, so pick the name carefully,” Oat wrote in an account of inventing the drink. “IRA and Carbomb are ‘cool’ in the bar scene, but in the reality of today NOT.”
The Car Bomb was born from a sort of barroom gallows humor that simply doesn’t translate well in the light of day—even now that Ireland is known more for its booming economy and pleasant locales for walking holidays than as a conflict zone.
Controversial name aside, one thing is clear—the Irish Car Bomb, or Irish Slammer as it’s sometimes called—is surprisingly delicious. Like a Long Island Iced Tea, this combination is far more beguiling than its constituent parts. The full body of the Guinness combines with the Bailey’s in a way that is texturally reminiscent of a milkshake, and the bitter stout and whiskey give it a backbone, making it far less cloying and overtly sweet than something like a mudslide. It’s a good drink.
A word of caution: Do not order this drink in Europe, and especially not in Ireland or the UK. Not only does it make people mad, it’s a quintessentially American drink. In the US, consider calling it an Irish Slammer instead, though be prepared to explain yourself.
You can make this drink at home, but really, why would you? This is fundamentally a bar drink. The messy drama of the shot dropping into the pint glass, the performative element of chugging it down (and chugging is the only way)—you lose all that when you make one to sip in your kitchen.
If you’re curious, unusually hardcore with your home mixology, or just can’t bring yourself to order one in public, here’s the recipe. (Most bars these days omit the Kahlua in Oat’s recipe, but you can find the original version here.)
Half a pint Guinness Stout
1 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 ounce Jameson Irish whiskey
Fill a pint glass about halfway with the Guinness. Pour the Bailey’s, then the Jameson, into a shot glass. Dramatically drop the shot glass into the half pint of Guinness. Drink it. All at once.