What's the Right Way to Make an Irish Coffee?

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On a dark and stormy night in the 1940s, the Irish Coffee was born. That is, if you believe its glamorous origin story.

In the nascent days of transatlantic flight, passengers would board a seaplane—also known as a flying boat—for an 18-hour journey. The Port of Foynes in County Limerick was one of the hubs for these early flights. By 1943, Brendan O’Regan had opened a restaurant at the seaplane base to welcome weary travelers. In bad weather, passengers were offered coffee and tea as soon as they got off of the plane.

As the story goes, a flight took off from Ireland that winter but hit some bad weather. It turned around and touched down again at Foynes almost 10 hours later. The staff had been notified, and they greeted the weary travelers with food and hot beverages. To calm their nerves and warm them, chef Joe Sheridan spiked their coffee with Irish whisky.

For the next few weeks, Sheridan experimented with the Irish Coffee recipe. Once it was perfect, he presented it to the head of catering. Although coffee cocktails had been around for about a century, this occasion marked the birth of the first truly popular coffee cocktail.

With historical figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, and Humphrey Bogart coming through the Port of Foynes, the drink’s fame spread. An American travel writer who had visited Sheridan’s bar implored Jack Koeppler, the owner of San Francisco's Buena Vista Café, to offer the drink. Koeppler did, in 1952, and the Buena Vista Café can boast the first Irish Coffee in America.

Even if this story isn’t entirely true, a lot of the details are. It’s in the right place and time and has the right characters. There is only one well-known account of why Joe Sheridan created it, and only one surviving story about its name.

Today, it's a celebrated cocktail around the world. And, in 1988, the National Standards Authority of Ireland published standards for making the drink.


Irish Coffee
Adapted from the original Irish Coffee recipe.

2 oz whiskey
5-6 oz coffee
2 tsp brown sugar
Heavy cream

Pour boiling water into a stemmed, wide-mouthed coffee mug to heat. Once you're ready to mix, dump out the water. Add the sugar and whiskey to the glass with about an inch of coffee. Stir to combine. Fill with coffee up to about one inch below the rim. Top with a thick layer of lightly whipped cream or pour the cream over the back of a spoon.