Irish Coffee (and Irish Channel Coffee)

Earlier today, in our discussion of Irish drinks for St. Patrick’s Day and especially the Tipperary Cocktail, I mentioned that other than “Paddy & Red” (Paddy Irish Whiskey mixed with fizzy red lemonade into a highball of sorts), there really isn’t any one historically quintessentially Irish cocktail.

“What about Irish coffee?” you ask. A lovely drink it is, but I’d always thought of it as kicked-up coffee rather than an actual cocktail. That said, I do love Irish Coffee.

It didn’t exactly spring up from local pub culture; it was invented by head chef Joseph Sheridan at Foynes Airport in Co. Clare (precursor to the modern Shannon Airport). As the story goes, “passengers from America would come into the Foynes airport via seaplanes (flying boats), chilled due to weather conditions. Typically they would order hot cups of coffee or tea when the arrived to their terminals. Brendan O’Regan, the manager of the Foynes catering service, believed the passengers would like something stronger than just coffee or tea and so Joseph Sheridan created the Irish Coffee.” This would have been sometime in the 1940s, and Sheridan moved to Shannon when Foynes was closed in 1945, taking his recipe with him.

Irish Coffee made it to the United States in the 1950s when a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle brought the recipe from Shannon to Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, who subsequently made 30 million of them, and up to 2,000 of them every day. Some will claim that the Buena Vista invented the Irish Coffee; others will claim that Tom Bergin’s Pub in Los Angeles did the same. Correct them kindly but firmly.

I’m not sure if many people in Ireland other than tourists ever order this in a pub, but that aside it’s really good when made well, and is perfect for taking the chill of a wintry day. It’s easy to make, although having hand-whipped cream on hand isn’t generally a daily occurrence in my house (and don’t you dare use that stuff from the can).

Joseph Sheridan’s Original Irish Coffee

Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet.
Pour in one shot of Irish whiskey.
Add three sugar cubes.
Fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of the top. Stir gently.
Top off to the brim with heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks.
Drink the whiskey-laced coffee through the cream; do not stir.

The way I make it is this: The whiskey must be Jameson’s or Power’s. The sugar should be brown, and it should be cut down to one cube, maybe two; I generally use a rounded teaspoon of brown or turbinado (raw) sugar.

For a New Orleans version, the Irish Channel Coffee, use good, strong New Orleans dark roast coffee and chicory, preferably Community or Union; use French Market or CDM if that’s what’s around.