Have you heard of National Irish Coffee Day? Are you having a hard time believing that it actually exists? You’re not alone. But it is, indeed, a holiday in the United States–celebrated annually on the 25th of January (though you shouldn’t expect your boss to give you the day off work).
You don’t need to be in the US to enjoy it, of course. After all, it is an Irish cocktail. In fact, you can be anywhere in the world, as long as you have access to Irish whiskey, coffee and cream. It also helps to have a little sense of the drink’s history to wash it all down. And we’ve got a heavy pour of that to share with you below…followed by a tip on where you can find the best version, made with our yet-to-be-released rare single malt, The Donn.
The History of Irish Coffee
The Irish Coffee was originally conceived 80 years ago in Foynes Port near Limerick, Ireland. You’re probably not all that surprised by its birthplace. But here’s a little twist for you: the person who created it, Joe Sheridan, was not a bartender at all but a chef. The small village he called home was the site of an airbase for transatlantic flights. So it enjoyed an outsized band of international travellers during short layovers and refuels.
According to the most popular account, after a long haul flight was cancelled one winter night, the disappointed jetsetters returned to Sheridan’s cafe in need of warmth and something to lift their spirits. He had just the thing– an easy-drinking arrangement of his best coffee topped up with his favourite whiskey. The guests drank it down swiftly without even realising there was any added booze in the mix. One of them finally wondered what made the drink so magical.
“Is this Brazilian coffee?” They asked.
“No, it’s Irish Coffee!” Sheridan exclaimed. And a legend was born, along with a cocktail that would go on to become one of the most popular drinks in the United States. But that didn’t happen until nearly 1953 when a travel writer introduced the recipe to Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco. At that time, the drink’s popularity was confined to Shannon Airport, where it enjoyed a cult-like status.
It seemed simple enough to re-create elsewhere, but this is a drink that’s as much about presentation as it is about flavour. In order to work as intended, the cream has to float gently atop the tipple. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. After extensive experimentation, Koeppler discovered that a 48-hour aged cream, frothed to a precise consistency, is most likely to stay perfectly in place above the coffee and whiskey below. Then it was decided that a heat-treated 6 oz. goblet would be the most appropriate vessel to keep it all intact.
From there, the Irish Coffee took the country by storm, in the form in which it’s still most recognized today. The Buena Vista remains Valhalla for the cocktail, serving as many as 2000 a day from its location in Fisherman’s Wharf. In November of 2008, the diner set the Guinness World Record for the largest Irish Coffee ever made. It included 10 litres of Tullamore DEW!
While the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista might remain the gold standard for some, another famed outpost on the opposite end of the country has helped re-imagine it in a craftier light. When the Dead Rabbit opened a decade ago in New York’s Financial District, owners Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon knew they had to come correct with their signature hot cocktail. The duo were from Belfast and were setting out to establish the finest Irish Bar in all of America. So they opted for a higher-end Irish whiskey at its base, something bold and rich enough to stand up against fresh brewed coffee. Then they applied a premium demerara syrup to sweeten things up, while topping it off with a gently-whipped super heavy cream. Then the coup de grâce: freshly grated nutmeg to tie it all together. It was a cocktail fit for the era of modern mixology. And Dead Rabbit wasn’t just recognised as the country’s finest Irish Bar – it was soon awarded the distinction of “World’s Best Bar.” All this upon the back of our beloved drink, the most classic and cherished of hot drinks, the Irish Coffee.
Now here at The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., we advise using only the finest spirit to make your Irish Coffee at home. In fact, you should only be using the finest spirit for just about anything. And for this very special holiday, we’ve partnered up with world-renowned chef, Adam Handling, for our take on the classic as envisioned by his award-winning staff. This includes Ugly Butterfly, Michelin-starred Frog, Eve Bar and The Loch and The Tyne. Book into any of these magical dining destinations on January 25th and you’ll find the best Irish Coffee you’ll ever have is waiting for you behind the bar.
This isn’t just our opinion. It’s a statement borne of facts. Handling’s restaurant, Frog, has earned a Michelin star for his prowess in the kitchen. And remember that it was in fact a chef who first conceived of the drink. Today, he honours that history with his very own recipe–which is available in his latest cocktail book, Perfect, Three Cherries. The starting point is The Donn, our latest release and one that has yet to be launched for sale to the public. But is causing a stir amongst some of the biggest names in the business. Chef Patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Matt Abé, is currently using it to great effect in an exquisitely conceived dish at the three Michelin-starred eatery in London.
But we digress. January 25th is all about Irish Coffee. And we want to make sure that you’re enjoying the absolute pinnacle expression of this timeless tipple. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the UK on January 25th, reserve a table at any of Adam Handling’s wonderful restaurants to find out what all the fuss is about. If not, check out his cookbooks and keep your eye on The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. website so that you can be the first to get your hands on The Donn, to re-create Handling’s superb rendition in your home bar. You’ll find the recipe in Perfect, Three Cherries. In the meantime, raise your heated glassware high, and before you bring the frothy cream to your lips remember to say, “sláinte!”
It’s the whiskey of the Emerald Isle and a holiday of the US, but Irish Coffee Day is truly a universal celebration.