It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Irish Coffee

It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Irish Coffee
Our weekly recommendation.

I gave Scotland some love in our last article, so why not give its neighbor a nod this week? The days have turned short, grey, and cold up here, so warming drinks are always a good idea, and this one’s a classic. It may not be as fancy as some of the drinks I’ve featured in this column, but so what? Irish Coffee is simple, straightforward, not difficult to make, and delicious.

Mixing liquor with coffee doesn’t originate with this drink, and in fact goes back at least to the mid-eighteenth-century (and likely much earlier), when European coffee houses served a wide variety of coffee-based drinks spiked with spirits. Still, this cocktail—created in 1943 by Joe Sheridan, who was the head chef at the airport restaurant at Foynes in County Limerick at the time—has become the best-known example. The Irish Coffee then took another eight or nine years to make it to the US, where it began to grow in popularity, becoming a staple at just about any pub you’ll find on this side of the Atantic.

Interestingly, the original recipe for this drink calls neither for whipped cream, nor for another ingredient that’s become a common addition: Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur. Instead, the coffee is sweetened with a good amount of sugar (the IBA standard calls for brown sugar, so that’s what I’m using). This changes its surface tension, which allows thick, but non-whipped, cream to rest on the top of the drink. The coffee is then drunk through the layer of cream.

The key to this drink, as with all drinks, is quality ingredients. Dump some sugar into a cup of gas station coffee that’s been sitting on the burner for four hours, then throw some old cream on top, and be prepared for disappointment. Instead I recommend making a fresh pot (or French Press, or espresso pull, or whatever method you like) using fresh, high-quality beans. You don’t need to make a ton; you’re looking for a 2:1 ratio of coffee to whiskey, here. Also, I’d recommend decaf, since most of us do our drinking at night, but that also is your call.

If you’re having trouble getting your cream to float, try holding a spoon against the edge of the glass, convex side up, and pouring the cream gently on top of it. If that still doesn’t work, well, I won’t tell anyone if you want to beat the cream a little to thicken it. Just try to avoid using a spray-can full of whipped topping; it’s really not the same experience.

  • 4 oz. Fresh-brewed Coffee
  • 2 oz. Irish Whiskey (Teeling)
  • 1.5 oz. Heavy Cream
  • Brown Sugar to Taste (I like about 2 tsp.)

Combine coffee and whiskey in a mug or Irish Coffee glass. Add sugar to taste and stir until thoroughly combined. Float cream on top of drink and serve. No garnish … though any typical coffee garnish such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cocoa powder wouldn’t hurt!

Items in parentheses are what I used when making this drink, and are included as recommendations. Thanks to Wikipedia for some general historical information.

Christopher Buecheler is a novelist, a web developer, an award-winning amateur mixologist, a brewer, a guitarist, a drummer, and an NBA enthusiast. He lives a semi-nomadic life with his wife and two cats, currently residing in Providence, RI. You can learn more at his website, cwbuecheler.com.

  • Rt1583

    Does the darkness of the sugar have an effect on the chemistry of the drink or would the shade of the sugar depend more on how much molasses flavor you want in the drink?

    • http://cwbuecheler.com/ Christopher Buecheler

      Pretty much the latter … brown sugar will lend a slightly different flavor to the drink. It might also have a slight impact on how easy it is to float the cream, but probably nothing noticeable. I’d use whatever you like best … even artificial sweeteners, though with those you’d definitely have to partially whip the cream to get it to float.

  • browneagle44 ロベルト

    Would Bailey’s be a nice substitute for the cream?

    • http://cwbuecheler.com/ Christopher Buecheler

      Sure, but you’d probably want to tone down the sugar some since Bailey’s is so sweet. It might not float quite as well as the cream does, either (though I’ll admit, getting the cream to float ain’t easy, either, unless you absolutely flood the coffee with sugar!).

      • browneagle44 ロベルト

        Oh definitely! I was thinking of foregoing the sugar anyways and adding Bailey’s on top. I had an Irish Coffee a few years back that had steamed Bailey’s on top, like a cappuccino, sort of like a garnish of cream.

  • bucajack

    Made many an Irish Coffee when I worked in my local pub during university. Hated when someone would order one when we were slammed at the bar! We always made it with Jameson which is ubiquitous in Ireland.

  • Steeps

    I have another suggestion… Bailey’s Hot Chocolate for those that don’t drink coffee (me).

    2 oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream
    6 oz. Hot Chocolate
    Dollop of whipped cream on top