Irish Coffee, Swift
Irish Coffee, Swift

The Irish Coffee is the latest cocktail under Clinton Cawood's microscope. He brings us the history and this hot-cold classic.

So much more than a boozy coffee, this classic has been elevated by a number of bartenders to an art form over the years. Every component of the Irish Coffee has been scrutinised and refi ned, from the correct coffee to the best sugar to use, the ideal temperature of the different ingredients, and the most effective way of floating the drink’s distinctive dollop of cream. Irish whiskey is a given, of course, although which one is also a matter of debate.

By most accounts, the first to tackle these complexities, and generally considered to be the drink’s inventor, was Joe Sheridan, a bartender and chef at Foynes Flying Boat Port near Limerick in Ireland. On an inclement night in 1943, the story goes, he served these to some stranded passengers. Though, according to David Wondrich, who recently researched the history, that’s not quite true. He says the drink – first called the Gaelic Coffee – was first presented to a party of VIPs at a ceremony for the flying boat’s new lines.

The next leg of this well-travelled cocktail’s journey took it to San Francisco, to the Buena Vista Café. In 1952, the cafe’s owner Jack Koeppler and travel writer Stanton Delaplane attempted to recreate the increasingly renowned cocktail. Their attempts proving to be less than successful, Koeppler travelled to Shannon Airport, which had replaced the fl ying boat port, to consult with Sheridan. San Francisco’s mayor at the time, who happened to own a dairy, lent a hand too, suggesting they use cream aged for 48 hours. The Buena Vista remains famous for its Irish Coffees to this day, where bartenders whip up vast quantities at a time.

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Far more recently, on the opposite side of the US, The Dead Rabbit in New York has been making it its business to elevate the Irish Coffee further, using a rich Demerara sugar syrup and dark roast coffee. For a deep dive into the subject, the team there have published a book, When Whiskey Met Its Match - How Irish Coffee Captivated the World.