The original Irish coffee

  • By Ron Ramey Herald Writer
  • Monday, March 16, 2009 3:15pm
  • Life

Deep in the archives of some musty monastery in Ireland, you can search through ancient illuminated manuscripts and find the recipe for — something, I’m sure, but it won’t be Irish coffee.

No, the story of that “traditional” Irish drink goes back in the mists of time just to 1942, only a couple of years farther back than I go.

But, recent though it might be, it’s a nice story, and after finding it on at least two dozen Internet sites (before I quit looking) and in a few cookbooks and bartending books, I’m going to say it’s true.

Short version: Foyne, Ireland, was a connecting point for passenger seaplanes between the U.S. and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Cold, bumpy flights in winter. Cold boat rides to shore.

On one particularly bad night, proprietors of the terminal restaurant said, “Let’s warm these folks up!” Chef Joe Sheridan prepared hot coffee, thought (anticipating Emeril Lagasse, I’m sure), “Let’s kick it up a notch,” and added a shot of Irish whiskey, topping it off with a dollop of heavy cream.

There it was, Irish coffee, to warm the body and soul. The restaurant, and the coffee, later moved to the new Shannon International Airport nearby.

Addendum: In 1952, the owner of the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco wanted to re-create the drink for his restaurant, even traveling to Shannon Airport to research the Joe Sheridan original.

Back home, he experimented until it was just right, and Buena Vista became, the restaurant claims, the first American purveyor of Irish coffee, and maybe the biggest.

Sheridan’s drink had nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day, and you can bet Patrick, fifth-century European kind of guy he was, never saw a cup of coffee. But sales of the drink do spike on his day, particularly in the U.S.

Recipes vary, and some veer wildly into ingredients Joe Sheridan probably never would have considered, such as creme de menthe or other liqueurs.

So, let us hew to the simple original as much as possible for our own homemade Irish coffee. I followed this recipe religiously at home. It worked surprisingly well, even the trick with the spoon, and tasted great.

And remember, you really can have it any day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. We didn’t wait at our house.

Irish coffee (The Joe Sheridan way)

11/2ounces Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon brown sugar

6 ounces strong hot coffee (press method is recommended, but drip works fine)

Heavy cream, whisked until frothy, but not stiff and peaked. No canned aerosol stuff.

Warm up a mug by filling it with very hot water, then pour the water out. Add whiskey and let it warm a few seconds. Add hot coffee and stir in brown sugar.

Spoon cream, floating it on top of the coffee, no stirring. According to some sources, the best way to do this is to drizzle the cream over the back of a spoon held over the mug. Makes 1 serving.

Drink up. Lick off your cream mustache.

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