What is Irish Coffee?

Posted on 12 Mar 2014 14:20

It is easy to see why people in the states don't quite understand Irish coffee. For instance, to some, it is just coffee with Irish whiskey added. Well, that is closer to the truth than what you'll get if you order an Irish coffee in some restaurant, and end up with something that looks more like a parfait than a coffee, with whipped cream on top, and for some reason, whole coffee beans.

Why in the world would anyone want whole coffee beans in their coffee? OK, so, real Irish coffee does not use whipped cream. And here is another hint: You don't need Bailey's Irish Cream to make it. In fact, you don't even need Irish whiskey, although a smokey Scotch would not be a good idea. A bourbon would do nicely.

Irish coffee can in no way claim to be the first "spiked" coffee drink, what some people call a coffee cocktail (which I think is silly). There is a very long history of such drinks.

However, the drink that is properly called Irish coffee is said to have been invented in 1943 by an Irish bartender named Joe Sheridan, at Shannon Airport in Dublin. In those days, passengers flying west across the Atlantic had to disembark for refueling at Shannon, which is located right at the Western edge of Ireland and was the a bit like the last exit for gas on a long highway trip. Most of these passengers were Americans.

Irish coffee
Irish coffee

Irish whiskey had been the most important Irish spirit for thousands of years, and it had being put into tea since at at least the 1500's. Knowing the passengers waiting for the plane to be refueled might need a little refueling themselves, along with a little something to relax them, and since coffee was more popular with Americans than tea, Joe Sheridan simply put whiskey into coffee, sweetened it up with some sugar, and glammed it up with some cream. Although it is often claimed he whipped up some light cream, it is more likely he used a heavy cream and floated it over the top, and served it in a stemmed glass. Irish coffee is a fairly recent innovation. By the 1950's, it had found it's way into the United States. Below is a basic, or should I say classic, Irish coffee recipe.

Irish Coffee Recipe


1.5 ounces whiskey (Irish, bourbon, or other)
5 oz strong coffee (make sure it is very hot)
1.5 tsp sugar (brown sugar can be used)
heavy cream (do not whip)


Have a small spoon handy. Pour the whiskey into whatever you want to use, such as an Irish Coffee mug, or a sturdy highball glass, or just a regular ceramic mug (won't be able to see the pretty Guinness-like concoction). Stir the sugar into the whiskey until it dissolves. Pour in the coffee, without stirring. Stir. Now, you will use a method called "floating" to put the cream on top. Turn the spoon over so that the rounded side is up and hold it over the cup. Very carefully, and slowly, pour the cream over the back of the spoon, so that it rests as a layer on top of the coffee. This may take practice! If you've done your Irish coffee right, it will resemble a mug of Guinness, complete with frothy head. And that is it. Enjoy!

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