Serious Eats: Recipes

Time for a Drink: Irish Coffee

[Photo: Jessica Leibowitz]

Next Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day, a date known to bartenders as "amateur night" and the time when revelers choke down glasses of green beer because, well, nobody's really sure why.

Rather than consuming drinks only relevant to the holiday because they're greenish, you can mix up something that's tasty and satisfying while still remaining true to the Irish tradition.

Now a familiar staple on many bar and restaurant menus, Irish Coffee has the benefit of having actually originated in Ireland—in its case, at an airport in western Ireland (where today Shannon International is located), as a warmer for a group of travelers in the late 1940s. By 1952, the drink had been picked up by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane, who brought the formulation home to the Buena Vista Café, where it's been the signature drink ever since.

Many bartenders, both pros and at-home amateurs, make the mistake of aiming for too much hoopla with the Irish Coffee, dousing it with heavy doses of sugar and using a too-generous hand with the cream, or supplementing the kick of Irish whiskey with an additional dose of Irish cream liqueur.

To produce an enjoyable drink that's not so sweet and rich as to make the Irish Coffee a confection, take it easy—let the Irish part and the coffee part stand front and center in flavor, with the sugar and cream in supporting roles (you can always add more if the drink really needs some added sweetness or richness), and save the liqueur for later.

Soothing and warming, and with just the right touch of decadence, the Irish Coffee is a more civilized way to observe Lá Fhéile Pádraig.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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