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 Atlantic.
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.
Items in parentheses are what I used when making this drink, and are included as recommendations. Thanks to Wikipedia for some general historical information.
The Irish Coffee Cocktail Recipe
- Irish coffee glass
- Bar spoon
- 4 oz. Fresh brewed coffee
- 2 oz. Irish Whiskey (Teeling)
- 1.5 oz. Heavy cream
- Brown sugar to taste
- 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!