How to Make an Irish Coffee: A History and How-To For This Classic Cocktail

Humans have been all about the gift that is coffee since at least the 15th century, though the beverage more than likely has a history much longer than that. The history of spirits is one that stretches even further back, with drinkable ethanol having been produced at least as far back as the 9th century CE (with fermented beverages such as beer, wine, and mead being created long before that). Any way you slice it (sip it?), coffee and liquor enjoy a history with hundreds of years of overlap. Thus you can rest assured that plenty of people had the wise idea to blend the two well before the middle of the last century. Nonetheless, the origin of the Irish Coffee as we know it is usually traced back to one single night in Ireland in 1942.

On that fateful, bone-chilling night, a group of American passengers disembarked from a seaplane near the village of Foynes in County Limerick, Ireland. They were soon met by chef Joe Sheridan, an enterprising fellow who added a healthy dose of Irish whiskey to mugs of hot coffee he served the chilled travelers in a two-pronged attempt to warm them up. Not only did it work, but it was delicious. A beverage was born that very night. And within a few years, Irish Coffee made its way Stateside. The cocktail took its international turn in the 1950’s thanks to a San Francisco Chronicle travel writer named Stanton Delaplane.

Irish Coffee Mug

As with any cocktail of merit, though, there are multiple claims to being the home and/or inventor of the drink. Some say that Joe Jackson of Jackson’s Hotel in County Donegal created it, while here in America, Tom Bergin’s Tavern in Los Angeles lays claim to being the originator. But … then shouldn’t it be American Coffee, Tom? Or Angeleno Coffee?

Regardless of who created it, we love it, and especially when winter weather has set in, which it certainly has this season. And we double especially love a good Irish Coffee on January 25. Why? Oh, no real reason … save for the fact that January 25th is National Irish Coffee Day! (And here you thought you had to wait until St. Patrick’s Day to dump liquor into a mug without your friends and family members looking at you askance.)

Here are five winning Irish Coffee recipes we just know you’ll love, and on any day of the year.

Irish Coffee Recipes

Bushmill’s x Root & Branch Irish Coffee

  • 2 oz Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey
  • 6 oz Bushmill’s x Root & Branch Coffee
  • .5 oz brown sugar almond syrup
  • Pinch of orange zest
  • Dollop of vanilla-scented whipped cream

Method: Using Bushmill’s x Root & Branch Coffee, the beans of which are aged in Bushmill’s whiskey barrels, prepare a six-ounce serving of hot, fresh coffee, ideally using a French press. Pour the coffee into a glass mug over the whiskey, then top with a generous serving of vanilla whipped cream. (Combine one cup whipping cream, 1 tbsp powdered sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a blender to make it fresh, or seek store bought). Top with a bit of orange zest. Drink. Drink deeply.

Tim Herlihy’s Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Coffee

  • 1.5 parts Tullamore D.E.W. Original
  • 1.5 parts Strong Brewed Coffee (Tim’s Pick: any premium dark roast)
  • .5 parts Sugar (Tim’s Pick: Demerara Sugar)
  • Lightly whipped heavy cream
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg

Method: Pre-heat a clear-stemmed glass with very hot water. Add the sugar and brewed coffee and stir well. Once the sugar has melted, stir in the Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey. Gently whip the heavy cream by shaking it in a protein shaker with a blender ball — you want a still somewhat loose, not stiff consistency. Pour the cream over the back of a hot teaspoon to top the drink (and prevent the cream from penetrating the top of the drink). Finally, garnish with grated nutmeg or cinnamon for a spicy finish. 

The OTT (over the top) Irish Coffee

(Created by by Joaquín Simó)

  • 1.5 oz Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey
  • .25 oz rich (2:1) demerara syrup
  • 5 oz hot coffee
  • 5 drops saline solution (or a tiny pinch kosher salt)
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • Cream*
  • Lightly toasted Little Boo Boo Bakery Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey Marshmallow for garnish

*For the cream:

  • 5-6 oz heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Dashes Regan’s No. 6 Orange bitters
  • Zest from 1 orange

Method: Muddle the cardamom pods in the bottom of a pre-heated Irish coffee glass, add whiskey, Demerara syrup, hot coffee, and saline solution, and stir. Whip the cream with the orange zest, white sugar and Regan’s No. 6 Orange bitters until thickened, but still pourable. Float cream over the top of the drink by pouring gently over the back of a spoon.

Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee

(Created by Dale DeGroff)

Method: Add all ingredients except the cream to a stemmed glass and stir. Hand whip the cream* so that it still pours and floats on top of the coffee.

*Never sweeten the cream.

The Teeling Whiskey Irish Coffee

Method: Preheat glass with some warm water and discard, add the Teeling Whiskey, stout syrup, and brewed coffee, and stir to combine. Warm a large spoon and gently pour the cream over the back of the spoon and onto the coffee. Garnish with a light dusting of grated nutmeg and enjoy with friends!

Article originally published January 24, 2017. Last updated January 2020.

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