The Original Irish Coffee Recipe and Its History

Irish Coffee Cocktail
The original Irish Coffee recipe goes a little further than adding Irish whiskey, though it is almost as easy and worth two extra steps. Steve Allen/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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Joe Sheridan had the right idea when he first combined a robust Irish whiskey with rich black coffee and created the Irish Coffee Cocktail. This hot drink has long been a favorite in Irish pubs with a popularity that could be said to rival a great stout (as tough as that may be).

Despite some common shortcuts that have been taken in the past, a great Irish Coffee is not as simple as adding a shot of whiskey to a cup of coffee. No, this is a well-planned, carefully constructed coffee drink that should be mixed with the care of any modern latte or cappuccino. That said, it is actually quite easy!

When created with care, this classic is one of the best drinks you will taste. It is a steaming cup of sweet goodness that you will crave on a chilly evening and want to share with everyone you know.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the sugar then coffee into a warm Irish coffee glass, mug or other heat-proof glass.
  2. Stir until dissolved.
  3. Add the Irish whiskey and stir again.
  4. Float the cream on top by pouring it over the back of a spoon. Do not stir again. Instead, drink the coffee through the cream.

4 Tips for Making a Great Irish Coffee Cocktail

  1. Choose a great Irish whiskey. Sadly, there are not many options available anymore and you really cannot go wrong with almost any brand. Favorites include anything from Bushmills or Jameson and you might try Kilbeggan or Tullamore DEW as well.

  2. Use freshly whipped cream. This is not the pressurized can of cream or whipped topping you may have in the refrigerator, those will ruin the Irish Coffee. Instead, begin with a little double (or heavy) whipping cream and vigorously whip it with a whisk or fork until it is light and fluffy. It may take a few rounds to get it right, but the experimentation is not that bad!

  3. Don't forget to preheat your glass. While the coffee is brewing, pour hot water into the glass or mug. Dump the water before making the drink. This will match the temperature of the final drink and keep it warm a little bit longer.

  4. Make a great cup of coffee. Creating a great coffee cocktail takes time and there is no point to go to this trouble if you downgrade it with low-end, watered down drip coffee! For a great Irish Coffee, you will want a rich, thick coffee and I suggest using a French press and high-end, fresh ground beans to get that result. Medium to dark roasted coffees work best.

Find more Irish Coffee tips from Dale DeGroff: 5 Ways You're Screwing Up Irish Coffee

The History of the Irish Coffee

The Irish Coffee was created by Irish chef Joe Sheridan in 1942 at the Foynes airbase (replaced by today's nearby Shannon International Airport) outside of Limerick, Ireland.

The story goes that an evening flight returned to the airport after attempting to reach New York during a winter storm. Sheridan ran the airport's new restaurant and mixed up the first round of Irish Coffees for those stranded passengers.

The name came about with the following exchange:

"Hey Buddy," said a surprised American passenger, "is this Brazilian coffee?" "No," said Joe, "that's Irish Coffee."

The Irish Coffee was a huge success and became a regular drink at the airport.

In 1952, a travel writer by the name of Stanton Delaplane brought the recipe to the United States. He brought it to the attention of a bartender by the name of Jack Koeppler at the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco.

The cream kept sinking when Koeppler tried to make the drink, so he traveled to the source to learn the correct way to make this new coffee drink. As the story goes, he ended up offering Joe Sheridan a position in the American Buena Vista Cafe where you can still get a great Irish Coffee.

As witty as the Irish tend to be, this is how Joe Sheridan explained how to make a true Irish Coffee:

Cream - Rich as an Irish Brogue

Coffee - Strong as a Friendly Hand

Sugar - Sweet as the tongue of a Rogue

Whiskey - Smooth as the Wit of the Land

How Strong Is the Irish Coffee?

When made with an 80-proof whiskey in the measurements given in the recipe, the Irish Coffee is relatively gentle at right around 9% ABV (18 proof). It is a simple sipper that you can just sit back and enjoy.