I first tasted Irish coffee one chilly day in County Kerry, Ireland. My daughter and I were with a tour group and the bus had just finished going around the Ring of Kerry. Along the way, the tour guide told us the story of Irish coffee. Irish coffee is served in an Irish coffee mug (which is actually a glass with a foot and a handle). We piled into a small Irish pub to get in from the cold. We were offered Irish coffee which came in mini mugs and I debated whether to allow my daughter to have one since she was only 16 years old at the time. But I thought, what the heck, she’s as tall as I am and when would be the next chance to have a genuine Irish coffee. Besides, in Ireland, she just made the minimum age to be served in a licensed establishment. And I did mention that the coffees were “mini.” They were delicious!
Back to history: Irish coffee was invented at Foynes Airbase in Limerick. Foynes is the home of the Pan Am Flying Boats and used to be one of the biggest airports in Europe, about 35 miles from Shannon Airport, which did not have flights to the United States. So, passengers were taken to Foynes to cross the Atlantic and it was also the airport frequented by Hollywood stars and politicians entering Europe. In the 1940s, a group of American passengers came into the restaurant of Foynes Airbase after a failed Atlantic crossing on a bitterly cold day. To warm the sodden passengers up, chef Joe Sheridan added whiskey to the hot coffee. The Americans asked if they were having Brazilian coffee and in true Irish fashion, Sheridan replied, “No, it’s Irish coffee.”
How did Irish coffee cross the Atlantic? Thanks go to San Francisco Chronicle travel writer Stanton Delaplane, who first tasted the coffee in Shannon Airport. He shared the experience with his friend and Buena Vista bar owner, Jack Koeppler and they tried to recreate the Irish method of floating the cream on top of the coffee. Since they couldn’t recreate the drink, Koeppler invited Sheridan to the U.S. and offered him a job, which he accepted. Sheridan’s drink made Buena Vista famous and today, it still serves up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day.
Here is the recipe for Joe Sheridan’s Original Irish Coffee (courtesy of Irish Central):
2 sugar cubes
1 ½ oz. Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
Cream, lightly whipped
Fill an Irish coffee glass with very hot water to preheat, then empty. Pour hot coffee into hot glass until it is about ¾ full and drop in 2 cocktail sugar cubes; stir until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Add a full jigger of whiskey for proper taste and body. Top with a collar of lightly whipped cream by pouring gently over a spoon. Enjoy it while it’s still hot.
According to the International Bartenders Association (IBA), Irish Coffee is a cocktail consisting of hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar and topped with thick cream. IBA specifies the ingredients as follows: 4 cl. (2 parts) Irish whiskey, 8 cl. (4 parts) hot coffee, 3 cl. (1 ½ parts) fresh cream and 1 tsp. brown sugar.
There are many variations of Irish coffee but retain the basic ingredients. In Spain, Irish coffee is served “layered” – the whiskey is at the bottom, followed by a coffee layer, and topped with a layer of cream but this requires a special device. A variant of Irish coffee is Irish cream coffee, which is made with Bailey’s, a pre-mixed substitute for whiskey, cream, and sugar. Gaelic or Highland coffee is made with Scotch whiskey. (Which whiskey is best to use with coffee, of course, depends on whether you ask the Irish or the Scots.)
While we are still gripped by winter, enjoy some Irish coffee but remember to drink responsibly. It’s easy to forget that this is an alcoholic drink.