Whether it’s been to kick off a holiday or occasion with a delicious alcoholic beverage, or ease back into boozing after a long, hard night of drinking, thousands of people have turned to an Irish Coffee. Not only is it one of the tastiest and easiest alcoholic drinks to get down―scalding coffee aside, of course―but it’s a great ‘pick-me-up’ because of the caffeine.
If you’re not an experienced drinker, however, or you tend to avoid anything that’s not “made in America”, then you may not have tried this fantastic drink. Or, perhaps you’ve had your fair share of Irish Coffees, but every time you have, you’ve been in no condition to actually read the drink menu or care what goes into it. All you cared about is it tastes good and was a nice way to prepare for that huge, greasy breakfast you just ordered.
But, if you’ve been planning to wake up with Irish Coffee for the first time, or again, and want to know about one of Ireland’s great gifts to civilization, read on. It didn’t become one of the planet’s favorite alcoholic beverages by accident, or did it…?
History behind the Drink
Thanks to things like St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness beer, and stereotypes, you may have grown up thinking that booze has kind of been a big deal in Ireland for centuries. While this may be true, the reality is that Irish people haven’t always had their coffee with a belt of whiskey and a healthy topping of cream. Or, if they did, no one ever thought to call it “Irish Coffee” until 1942.
According to legend, the first Irish Coffees were served that year at Foynes Airbase in County Limerick, Ireland. A flight heading to Newfoundland had been turned back to the airbase due to bad weather. A chef named Joseph Sheridan wanted to offer the tourists something to warm them up, and get a little buzzed too, and proceeded to give them coffee that had whiskey and sugar in it, with heavy cream floating on top.
Wait. The story gets better. Apparently an American passenger asked Sheridan if they were drinking “Brazilian coffee”, to which he replied, “No; that’s Irish Coffee.” A tale with that good of an ending has got to be true right? Well, there’s a plaque honoring Sheridan and his creation at the Shannon International Airport, which was opened after the Foynes Airbase closed in 1945.
Irish Coffee Hits America
While several Americans were lucky enough to get in on Irish Coffee from its inception, a travel writer was reportedly the driving force behind making it a drinking staple in America. A few years later, Stanton Delaplane apparently came across the drink at the aforementioned Shannon Airport. The writer was understandably smitten with it, and later convinced the Buena Vista bar in San Francisco to start serving it.
While it took a little while for the Buena Vista to duplicate Sheridan’s masterpiece just right, eventually the bar got it down. In fact, Sheridan himself was brought over to work at the establishment in 1952. Talk about dedication! After all these years the San Fran bar is still doing it right, as it serves hundreds of the amazing drink daily.
The Original Recipe
Contrary to the way most people have had it, the original recipe for Irish Coffee
, crappy out-of-the-can whipping cream, and a red Maraschino Cherry that might be older than the server. It also didn’t involve a green, plastic stir stick with a four leaf clover on the end.
The original Irish Coffee that Sheridan created calls for an ounce of Irish Whiskey, or two―let’s be honest―two teaspoons of brown sugar, five to six ounces of freshly brewed coffee, and two teaspoons of heavy or whipped cream on top. According to the Buena Vista method, you should preheat the glass by pouring boiling water into it first, and let it sit for about a minute before making the drink. Who knew right?
If you’re more of a wine drinker or can count on one hand how many times you’ve stepped into a liquor store, some examples of delicious Irish whiskey include Jameson’s, Tullamore Dew, and Bushmills.
The trick to mastering the original recipe, however, is apparently with the cream. Even the Buena Vista took some time to get the layering down right. The heavy cream has to be frothed adequately so that it will float on top, and it will layer much easier if you pour it slowly over a spoon that’s back side up. Of course, if you’re using whipped cream, then just chuck a couple of spoonfuls on and have at it.
New Takes on Irish Coffee
Not surprisingly, there’s been no shortage of folks and restaurants who have put their own spin on Irish Coffee. For example, if you’ve had quite of few of these during your time, then chances are you’ve had one that came with whiskey as well as an Irish cream liqueur like Bailey’s. You might have also had one that came with chocolate flakes on top of the cream.
If you had one that tasted like it had rye, scotch, or bourbon in it, then that just means the bartender didn’t know what they were doing. None of those liquors are from Ireland.