What are the ingredients in a proper Irish Coffee cocktail?
Bailey’s and coffee is a common answer. However, ingredients like crème de menthe, whipped cream, Kahlúa, and even Guinness might come to mind. Turns out, Irish Coffee’s traditional contents aren’t that much of a mystery: The ingredients are simply hot coffee, Irish whiskey, whipped heavy cream, and brown sugar.
As Canadian author Alex Levine once described the drink: “Only Irish Coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat.”
But a true Irish Coffee is also defined by this key technique: Floating the whipped heavy cream on top of your sweetened, boozy coffee concoction. This is accomplished by pouring it into the drink, with the patience of St. Patrick, over the back of a spoon.
“I like to start out with a piping hot Irish Coffee glass,” says Michael Egan, brand ambassador for Kilbeggan Distilling Company. “I’ll pour in boiling water and let it rest for a minute. I’ll then combine a tablespoon of brown sugar and my freshly brewed coffee in the glass then I stir to allow the sugar to dissolve. The next step is to add 1.5 ounces of Irish whiskey. I like to use Kilbeggan Single Grain or the Tyrconnell. The fruity notes in these whiskies stand up beautifully in the coffee. To finish, I’ll use a spoon and gently pour the cold, freshly whipped cream over the coffee until reaching the brim of the glass. A small bit of grated nutmeg over the top of the cream adds flavor and is aesthetically very pleasing!”
So who was the fine lass or lad who invented this satisfying tipple? Meet chef Joe Sheridan. In 1943, while working at the airport in Foynes—a small town in West Ireland—he had the task of warming up (and cheering up) American passengers whose U.S.-bound flight was forced to turn around because of weather conditions. So he whipped up the now-infamous coffee mixture for them. The disgruntled travelers were assuaged, and the drink stuck. In fact, it quickly became the airport’s welcome drink. (Can someone please bring this travel trend back?)
It would be another decade or so before it became an American sensation, thanks to journalist Stan Delaplane. In 1951, he flew into the Foynes airport and sampled an authentic Irish Coffee. When he returned to his home in San Francisco, he told his friend Jack Koeppler, the owner of Buena Vista Café, about this Irish concoction, which led Koeppler to add it to the cafe menu.
But Koeppler, with Delaplane’s help, could never quite get the recipe right, having issues with the cream. So Koeppler went straight to the source: He offered Joe Sheridan a job at Buena Vista in 1952. Surprisingly, Sheridan accepted the job and moved to California. Today, Buena Vista is still famous for its traditional Irish Coffees. According to the restaurant’s website, it serves up to 2,000 of them a day!
You can no longer visit the original birthplace of Irish Coffee, as the airport closed in the 1950s. But there are plenty of other places in Dublin to sample a traditional or modern version.
“For me, the best Irish Coffee in Dublin is at Delahunt on Camden Street,” says Kevin Hurley, Teeling Whiskey ambassador. “They use a healthy measure of Teeling Small Batch, locally roasted coffee from a company called 3fe, and a whole-fat organic cream from a dairy in County Carlow. It’s sweetened with a stout-beer syrup spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and toffee essence and garnished with freshly grated nutmeg. It’s a truly indulgent drink and the perfect way to round off any meal.”
Ready for your own dose of Irish comfort in a glass? Follow this recipe and, rest assured, it won’t go arseways on you. Sláinte chugat!