An Ode to Irish Coffee

Warm Drink for a Cold Night

The first time I ever had Irish coffee was in Raheny, Ireland, a suburb in North Dublin. I was on a weekend visit from England, where I was studying history at the University of Warwick. The folks who ran the bed-and-breakfast where I was staying made the drink for my friend and I one night as we all sat in their living room exchanging stories.

Now maybe it was the whiskey talking, but I found it to be the most glorious drink I’d ever imbibed. The smooth coffee, cockle-warming whiskey, and that delicious cream topper — unforgettable.

Click to enlarge photo

I returned to the United States, waited a few years until I turned 21, and then began ordering Irish coffees in bars, hoping to recapture the rapture of my first experience. To my dismay, the concoctions were typically disappointing. It’s a simple recipe, but the ingredients and execution must be precise to achieve the magical mixing of flavors. I soon learned to make my own Irish coffees.

The best recipe is the original, created by Irishman Joe Sheridan. The mixture came to him on a lark in 1943, when he was head chef for the restaurant at Foynes Flying Boat Base (now Shannon Airport) in County Limerick. The story goes as such: It was a cold and stormy winter’s night. A Pan Am plane heading to Newfoundland tried to fly through the desperate weather conditions only to return to the terminal several hours later to wait for clearer skies. The restaurant staff was alerted of their return, and Sheridan was asked to prepare something warm for the passengers; he threw some whiskey in with coffee, plopped some cream on top and voilà — Irish coffee was born. Later, he finessed the drink by pouring it in a stemmed glass, which is how it is still meant to be served.

Joe Sheridan’s Irish Coffee

1 jigger of Irish whiskey

Coffee (a smooth, strong blend is best, although an Americano can make for a nice base, too)

Heavy cream (not whipped cream)

Brown sugar

Fill stemmed glass with hot water to preheat, then empty. Pour piping hot coffee into the warm glass until it is about ¾ full. Add one teaspoon (or tablespoon, depending on desired sweetness) of brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in Irish whiskey. Top with a “collar” of slightly whipped heavy cream by pouring it gently over the back of a spoon. (Do not stir.) Enjoy!

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