By Scott Thomas Anderson
Patrick Redmond has some questions to ask before pouring a glass of whiskey.
That is, if he’s guiding a person through the generational art and tingling experience of distilled wizardry off the barley.
Redmond has a passion for explaining “the Angels’ share,” and he chases it behind an ornate marble edifice portaling back to the Old West: His tasting room is a vault beyond stone cherubs and titanic iron locks – the sturdy, indestructible heart of a bank dating back to America’s Gilded Age. It was built in Woodland during the same year that British officials passed Ireland’s Land Act, which gave tenant farmers opportunities to avoid being forced across the Atlantic. Yet, by that time, empty stomachs and empty futures had already sent droves of famine ships to North America.
The Irish were now scattered from the docks of New York to the saloon-studded boardwalks of Sacramento. Redmond’s own family made the desperate journey from Wicklow, the county’s “garden,” to the shores of Prince Edward Island. Like so many cast-out Sons of Erin, they poured themselves into new dreams in a new land.
Now, settling into his decorative bank that practically breathes living history, Redmond can honor that immigrant grit through his own Irish-themed Fortress of Solitude.
He calls his creation Father Paddy’s Pub; and it doesn’t just host the best live Celtic music in the region, it also features hearty food, a calibrated beer menu and Redmond’s increasingly famous “whiskey vault,” containing more than 500 different spirits from around the world.
These four-leaf factors have all made Father Paddy’s a top destination for Saint Patrick’s Day. The festivities Redmond and his manager Elia Puccio are planning for this year include their “Who’s Your Paddy?” street-side party, three live bands blasting inside the pub, an Irish Car-bomb cocktail station and a special, holiday-themed food menu. The March 17 action starts at noon and goes on well after sundown at 435 Main Street.
“Last year we went through about 2,000 wrist-bands,” Redmond recalls. “Saint Paddy’s day here is a really family-friendly environment. That’s really important to all of us. It’s just a fun environment – a hell of a lot of fun.”
A sonic, drink-swirling vision
Redmond got his first taste of Celtic pub culture while spending a summer in Scotland in 1980. He was a music major asked to perform in the first non-Scottish band ever allowed into Edinburgh’s legendary Tattoo Festival. From that moment, Redmond imagined owning a pub – one with plenty of live music. As the years passed, he started connecting with his family roots by visiting Ireland, especially when his daughter Megan began studying ancient music in County Cork.
By the time Redman turned 50, he was determined to open a pub.
Woodland’s grand bank from 1903 suddenly becoming available was the key. Redmond knew the structure had the same post-Victorian elegance common in pubs across Dublin. He planned a major renovation for the place, which for some time had been a Mexican restaurant, half-hiding its high, beautiful bones. It had carpets on the floor and an awkwardly situated bar, not to mention that its transporting vault was being used as a salad fridge. Redmond rolled up his sleeves.
“I knew it would work because of the fact that the building is what it is,” he muses. “In other words, I started off altering a Picasso.”
The doors to Father Paddy’s opened in 2016, instantly conjuring that easy sense of the Emerald Isle. Below its baroque crown molding, the pub’s walls are covered in old photographs and painted Celtic crosses, while a large Guinness harp rises over the massive marble guarding its vault. Its bar-in-the-round is also ever-illuminated in a Shamrock green shine.
Given Redmond’s musical background, it’s not surprising that the pub has a full stage for live performances. The area’s Celtic ensembles, including Stout Rebellion, One-Eyed Reilly, the Pikeys, the Young Dubliners and the Black Irish Band, have each taken the stage there. Tempest will be performing at Father Paddy’s on April 8.
“It makes us not-just-a-restaurant,” Redmond says of the music. “Sure, when you look at the reviews, there will always be that one guy who complains ‘the band was loud.’ Well, it’s an Irish punk band – it’s going to be loud.”
With the music dialed in, Redmond decided to recruit someone who could give Father Paddy’s a great beer program. The guy he had in mind was Puccio, who’d been selling him ale, first through Yolo Brewing and then through Campus Brewing.
Puccio says there was a bond with Redmond from the get-go. He ultimately jumped at the chance to add his skills and knowledge to Father Paddy’s mission. Puccio now oversees 17 tap handles, though only nine are rotating, since he feels an Irish pub should honor cultural locks like Guinness, Smithwick’s and Harp Lager. That means ten of Father Paddy’s taps are forever mixing the old with the new – and the Celtic with the local.
“Pat has given me free reign to experiment and do what works,” Puccio explains. “What we’re doing is featuring locals. You’ll see beer from Jack Rabbit in West Sac, Bike Dog – Dunlop from Davis. I’ll do whatever I can to give these local guys a shot. I think, because of our approach, we’ve not only become a whiskey destination, people are also starting to recognize us for our selection of beer.”
That’s doubly true for Father Paddy’s own signature brew, Loftis Hall. Named after a mansion in Ireland, the earliest foundations of which were built in 1350 by members of the Redmond family in Waterford, Loftis Hall is Puccio and Redmond’s special creation. They see it as an emblem of the lore and legend of the Emerald Isle’s southeast coast, since it’s said that Loftis Hall is the most-haunted building on the entire island. Their brew, carrying the Loftis Hall name, is made locally at Monk’s Cellar in Roseville.
“A nitrogenized beer is going to be a little different than your carbonized beer,” Puccio notes. “It’s going to have that cascading effect. The bubbles from the nitrogen are smaller than they are from CO2; it gives you a creamier mouth feel. But this beer, Loftis Hall, is in essence a clone of Murphys Red, which was Pat’s favorite beer before it was no longer obtainable here in the U.S. It’s our house beer and we’ll always have it on tap.”
Into the Whiskey-Verse
Redmond looks more like a spirits professor than western banker as he strolls into the whiskey vault. On this sunny afternoon, with Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” floating past the reinforced iron, Redmond is carefully pouring a glass of Green Spot Chateau Montelena Single Pot Irish Whiskey. He begins describing what the term “spicey” means in relationship to a pot-stilled Irish blend, as well as the finer points of Dublin’s malted and unmalted barely process. For Redmond, it’s all about the Irish method of stressing yeast. He also mentions that the contents of this particular bottle were finished for nine months inside Napa County wine barrels.
“When you say ‘spice’ in Irish whiskey, you’re talking baking spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, things along those lines,” Redmond observes. “Since this is a mix of malted and unmalted barely together, we’ve got some of those malty, slightly sweet characters – that which you like about a good stout, while the unmalted barely brings those spicier tones. So, it’s an interesting combination.”
Glancing up, he adds a thought about the rareness of its Chateau Montelena connection: “Those Calistoga zinfendels are a powerful little grape and completely California. I get these beautiful blackberry notes on top of the malted and spice tones.”
But no element of this tasting could even begin before Redmond compiled a personal dossier on his latest visitor. He asks the man about his background and history with whiskey. Redmond wonders about his coffee-drinking habits. Cream? No cream? He also wants to know if his guest has wine preferences – exact varietals and all. The types of beer that this man drinks soon become relevant. And does Redmond’s new taster prefer cinnamon or blackberry as a flavor profile? Gun to the head, would his guest pick a chocolate, caramel or fruit dessert at this very moment? Even the contours of the patron’s mood come up in the inquiry, along with the unobvious question of whether he likes barbecue.
When Redmond is hosting a whiskey tasting, he’s bound and determined to understand the center-of-palate for anyone in his vault.
That’s partly because, if someone is asking what to try, there are 500 selections to choose from. The vault has Irish whiskey, Scotch whiskey, American whiskey and whiskeys of the world beyond, including selections from Japanese, Israel, Belgium, Australia, Wales and India. Redmond sees the place as a doorway to new experiences. He sells glasses by the ounce, or by two-ounces, so it’s a more affordable way of dabbling than purchasing entire bottles.
“I’d rather you tried multiple things,” he reflects. “This place is about the adventure. This all is about the journey.”
After helping select the right whiskey, Redmond has his guest give it a soft smell to absorb its nose. Then, he has them breathe the spirit’s aroma with the mouth and nose at the same time. Since opening, Redman has developed a three-sip process for the actual tasting, which involves cleansing the palate before the pure product sets in.
“Don’t hurry this; if you hurry this, you’ll literally wake up the pain receptors and then tell them to go to sleep again,” he cautions. “Why do people take so long to drink a glass a whiskey? Because it’s a series of sensations … We want people to understand that whiskey is more than just that hot, caramelly set of notes.”
Learning the method of his boss’s madness, Puccio has become a true believer in how tastings are conducted in Father Paddy’s whiskey escape room.
“My biggest hope is that when people leave the vault, they understand how to drink it, all the backbones about it and knowing how it’s made,” Puccio admits. “The look on their face when they go through the three-step process that Pat’s come up with for tasting – that’s rewarding enough to give me goosebumps every time.”
Scott Thomas Anderson is also the host of the ‘Drinkers with Writing Problems’ podcast, Episode 1 of which was written and recorded in pubs in Ireland.