“No! That’s Irish coffee!”

Ireland: The land of the shamrock, lucky charms, and the Leprechaun is famous for a lot more including U2, Riverdance, Guinness, and of course Irish coffee. The history behind the beverage is as enticing as the beverage itself.

Stepping back in the late 1930s, Foynes Ireland was the hub for what was then the latest mode of air travel: The Flying Boat, between the US and Europe. Every flying boat came though Foynes Airport and by 1940, the airport had hosted the celebrities of the day including Hemingway, Bogart, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and even Eleanor Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, getting off the flying boat was proceeded by a long boat trip, oftentimes in the bone chilling cold of the North Atlantic – and that was when you could avoid making the trip in winter. Chef Joe Sheridan saw an opportunity and opened a restaurant to showcase the best of Irish cuisine at Foynes Airport. Irish coffee was born on one such cold winter evening when yet another flight destined for New York, USA turned back due to adverse weather – a common occurrence during the time.

The restaurant was alerted to have food and drink prepared as the passengers would be making another boat trip back to the terminal and would be arriving cold, wretched and in need of cheering up. Hot coffee was a norm on these occasions, but Chef Sheridan decided to put a little something extra in the coffee to help the passengers kick the cold: a few drops (or a few measures) of Irish whiskey.

It worked and an American passenger asked Chef Sheridan, “Hey is this Brazilian coffee?” Chef Sheridan replied, “No! That’s Irish coffee!” The beverage was born and it remains the official welcoming drink served at Foynes Airport until the facility closed in 1945 with the end of the flying boat era. Chef Sheridan, his restaurant and coffee moved to Shannon International Airport where it still welcomes passengers just off the plane to Ireland.

It was at The Beuna Vista Café in San Francisco was where owner Jack Koeppler and renowned food critic Stanton Delaplane had the idea to recreate Irish coffee. Hours became days which evolved into weeks as they tried different whiskies and finally perfected the recipe, except for one thing: How to get the cream to float on top of the coffee?

Travelling to Shannon, they asked the Chef Sheridan who revealed the secret to getting the cream to float as fresh cream, a lot of whisking and pouring it over the back of a spoon. With the recipe perfected, Irish coffee would go on to make the Buena Vista famous and Irish coffee took North America by storm.

Now if you are looking for the recipe, we are dealing with a whole other kettle of fish and I am not sharing the secret that took me forever to find. I will give you the ingredients in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Cream as rich as an Irish brogue. Coffee as strong as a friendly hand. Sugar as sweet as the tongue of a rogue. Whiskey as smooth as the wit of the land.” Just kidding! Here’s your ingredient list:

  • Freshly brewed coffee – press pot preferred
  • Fresh cold whipping cream – Not from a can, but hand whipped until just short of stiff and extra thick.
  • 35 ml Irish whiskey – Use a good whiskey, not the cheap stuff.
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • The recipe: Warm the glass in hot water, and then add your whiskey of choice. Preheating the glass forces the whiskey to release its aromas. Your coffee goes in over the whiskey followed by the brown sugar. Stir and mix well so that you trap and infuse the unique coffee and whiskey flavors together. Now the cream that you hand whipped, poured and layered gently over the back of a spoon.

    If you have ever experienced a winter anywhere, you know nothing beats an Irish coffee when you come in from the cold. Just remember to drink it hot through the layer of cold floating cream and never, ever stir!

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