Perfect for Saint Patrick’s Day
March 17th is the feast day of Saint Patrick, the best known of Ireland’s patron saints (the others are Saints Brigid and Columba). Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated by people of Irish descent around the world — and by those of us who decide to become Irish, at least for the day.
In the US, we’ll consume a lot of Corned Beef (which is good stuff) and green beer (which usually isn’t). For a much better drink, try Guinness. Or better yet, Irish whiskey.
Prefer your liquor in the form of a cocktail? Then let’s mix up an Irish Coffee.
A sip or two of this excellent elixir, and you’ll be ready to get your Irish on.
About Irish Whiskey
Irish whiskey is, of course, distilled and aged in Ireland. It was first made in the 12th century, which means it was among the earliest distilled drinks in Europe (Scotch, by contrast, wasn’t made until the late 15th century). Traditionally, Irish whiskey is made in a pot still (essentially a big vat) one batch at a time, and often is distilled three times for superior flavor.
According to The Economist, Irish whiskey once was considered the finest whiskey in the British Isles. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Scotch became more popular.
So why did Irish whiskey fall behind? In part, it was the loss of the US market during Prohibition, which hit Irish whiskey makers harder than those in Scotland (Scotch wasn’t a big seller in the US at the time). In part, it was politics — after Irish independence in 1922, much Irish whiskey was excluded from the British market.
But even before then, Scotch producers had been working hard to improve their game. As early as the 1830s, they started using continuous (Coffey) stills, which allowed them to produce larger quantities than could be made with pot stills. And a producer named Andrew Usher had begun blending whiskies to produce a lighter flavor. These innovations made Scotch more affordable and palatable to the masses.
By the time Prohibition ended, Scotch was clearly on the ascendant. Today in the US, most liquor stores carry numerous brands of Scotch, but offer little choice in Irish whiskey. Only two brands are usually available. One is Jameson, the most widely sold Irish whiskey in the world (it’s distilled in Cork, and vatted in Dublin). The other is Bushmills, which is made in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Both distilleries offer blends, although you can still find offerings produced in single pot stills.
Recipe: Irish Coffee
There’s no mystery about how to make this drink: Combine Irish whiskey and hot coffee, stir in a bit of sugar to sweeten, then top with a float of whipped cream. Traditionally, the cream is whipped until it’s just starting to hold a shape but doesn’t form peaks (so you can still pour it, barely). Add an inch (or a bit less) of this to the drink, and it floats on top like a soft cloud — an almost shapeless dollop.
But a lot of people prefer their cream to be whipped more stiffly – until the medium-peak stage, at least – which gives a topping with a very definite shape. I happen to like it this way, so the pictures all reflect my preference. Technically this isn’t “correct” — but why let technicalities stand in the way of a good drink?
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 1½ ounces Irish whiskey (either Jameson or Bushmills will work well; both are readily available)
- ~4 ounces hot coffee (the stronger the coffee the better, IMO)
- 1 - 3 teaspoons sugar or brown sugar (to taste; this is traditional, but optional IMO)
- whipped cream garnish (it’s best made from heavy cream, but you can use the canned stuff if you want — although that’s definitely not traditional; see Notes)
- If using a glass mug, rinse it with hot water to warm it (this also helps prevent the glass cracking from too hot coffee).
- Add the whiskey to the mug, and fill with coffee to a bit more than an inch of the rim.
- Add sugar if using, and stir to blend.
- Whip cream in a bowl until it just begins to hold a shape but is still barely pourable, and plop a spoonful on top as a garnish. Or if you prefer, whip the cream to the moderate-peak stage and use that; or dispense some whipped cream from an aerosol can. In any case, don’t stir the cream into the drink — it should float on top.
- The best tasting whipped cream is the stuff you whip yourself: Pour at least a cup of cream into a bowl (it’s hard to beat less than that amount), and beat the cream until it begins to thicken (it’s easiest if you use the whisk attachment on your electric mixer). If you want to make your drink the traditional way, stop beating before the cream gets to the soft peak stage — you should still just be able to pour it. If you want to sweeten the cream (not necessary), beat in a bit of sugar at the end.
- If you’re making just one or two drinks, it can be a pain to whip a small amount of cream by hand. In that case, I just use the commercial stuff in an aerosol can. It has decent enough taste and more body than the traditional, lightly whipped garnish.
- Brown sugar is the traditional sweetener of choice for this drink. I usually skip the sugar because I think cream adds enough sweetness, but many people like it.
- You don’t want to use too much coffee in this drink — it’s a cocktail, after all. About 4 ounces is just right.
- Glass “Irish Coffee” stemmed mugs (like the ones in the photos) are sized to hold the proper amount of booze and coffee.
- Irish Coffee was invented in the early 1940s by Joe Sheridan, a chef at Ireland’s Foynes port (which was later replaced by Shannon International Airport). According to legend, he began lacing coffee with Irish whiskey to revive weary air travelers.
- In the 1930s and 40s, planes had limited range. The terminal at Foynes was a popular refueling stop for planes from North America that were bound for England or Europe.
- These days, most of us don’t need a bracing cocktail after we disembark from a flight. (If we need alcohol, it’s before we take off; just the thought of all the airport hassle is enough to drive many of us to drink).
- So when should we drink Irish Coffee? Well, it would be ideal for brunch (along with Bloody Marys and Mimosas). It’s also great after dinner. Though in that case, you might want to use decaf coffee. With the sweetness from the sugar and whipped cream, you could even call this dessert!
Get Ready to Be Irish
We like holidays here at Kitchen Riffs central, so we’re looking forward to a big St. Patrick’s Day blowout on the 17th. We’ve whetted our appetites with this smooth Irish Coffee. Next week, we’ll serve up posts on two traditional Irish dishes: Irish Soda Bread and Colcannon (which is a mix of kale or cabbage and mashed potatoes).
Another dish that’s traditional for St. Patrick’s Day is Corned Beef. It’s great served with Steamed Vegetables (carrots are a must) or Braised Cabbage (one of the best ways to prepare cabbage). We always cook extra corned beef so we’ll have plenty left over for Corned Beef Hash (I like mine served with a fried egg on top).
So round up a supply of shamrocks. And dress all in green, if you like. Just don’t forget to lay in some Irish whiskey. You really don’t want to get stuck drinking that green beer.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Corned Beef Hash
The Grasshopper Cocktail
Income Tax Cocktail
Corpse Reviver Cocktail
Haha this Irish coffee looks gorgeous, love the topping to make it extra special :D
I love this cocktail; absolutely one of my favorites. I do like to sugar the rim though...really for no other reason than because I like the way it looks and feels. Think that's been true especially since I started using cake decorating crystals for rimming sugars; so pretty!
Hi Uru, it is gorgeous, it is! And who can resist a whipped cream topping? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Barb, if you like the way the sugared rim looks and feels, that's reason enough! It is a pretty effect, I agree, though with the sugar in the coffee and sweet cream, for me a bit too sweet. But I guess one could sugar half the rim for the looks, and keep the other half unsugared, for drinking. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I don't like coffee at all but when I see photos like yours, I sure wish I did. Love the cream though.
Hi Suzanne, I rarely drink coffee although I like it - I'm more of a tea drinker. But for this drink, I'll happily make some! And it combines well with the whiskey and cream (you'll have to trust me on this, since I know you'll never drink it!). Thanks for the comment.
I love the look of your Irish coffee. I have to confess to never having one. But you've certainly tempted me. I didn't know all that about scotch and whiskey - my husband drinks both! xx
I have to admit I have never had an Irish coffee before!! This looks so delicious and now I must try it :)
Hi Charlie, it's a fun drink. Not something I'd want all the time, or really even that often, but it's a nice change of pace. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, it's a pretty good combo of flavors. And rather striking, too, I think. Thanks for the comment.
LOL It's true -- flying these days is such a hassle that I think I need one of these before, during and after the flight. ;)
This looks SO good, if I could have this every morning at work I would lol Great drink for St. Patty's day!
I love Irish coffee, but the only time I've had one is apres ski. And I want one now!
Hi Carolyn, isn't flying the pits? At the very least I'd want one of these before the flight! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalie, drinking these at work would be fun! Might not be productive, but fun. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, this would be a great apres ski drink. So, go put your skis on, then you can have one of these. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Boy, John, did this post take me back. After dinner, Dad often whipped up a batch of Irish coffee for dinner guests when I was a boy. I'm not much of a whiskey drinker, though, so this is one tradition that I'm not bringing forward. This doesn't mean, however, that I didn't enjoy your post. I find the history of each cocktail that you share to be fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to research each for us and publish them. Thanks, too, for today's bit of nostalgia.
Hi John, glad to take you back! And you do taste the whiskey in this, so it isn't the drink if you don't like it. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Oh...I love love love Irish Coffee, green beer, not so much! :P With this gorgeous drink, I can turn myself to Irish, at least a couple times a week. :)
Hi Amy, being Irish a couple of time a week is a good thing! And the worst the about the green beer thing is it's usually really cheap beer that they dye green. No thanks! But thanks for the comment.
With a last name like Malarkey, St Patrick's day is always one of my fave..capped off with an Irish Coffee of course!
I have never tried Irish coffee although I'm a huge coffee drinker. With my low alcohol tolerance, my husband will find me completely drunk by the time he comes home from work. :D I love the first shot. Makes me want to drink coffee right now!
I don' know much about irish drinks, but really didn;t like green beer. This coffee though, I think i could like ;) Happy St Pat's in advance ! x
Haven't had a beautiful strong coffee in ages, you are making me crave for caffeine here!
I'll take the Irish coffee instead of the green beer, please. I have my corned beef in the refrigerator just waiting for the day.
That will cure whatever ails you, good stuff. :)
Hi Erina, it's a fun holiday, isn't it? A lot of great food and drink. Like Irish Coffee. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
Hi Nami, if you like coffee you'll love this drink! You can cut down on the booze a bit, although you want to use enough so you can taste it (the combo of the whiskey and coffee so nice). I haven't tried it, but I think an ounce of booze would be OK, and you might be able to get by with 3/4 of an ounce. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Shu Han, I think green beer appeals mainly to the college crowd. Happy early St. Pat's Day to you, too! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jenny, strong coffee is so nice, isn't it? And with the extras in this one, it's extraordinary! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, Irish Coffee is so great! And I love corned beef - such a wonderful flavor. One of these years I need to make my own. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judy, it certainly will. And it's definitely good stuff. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I would most definitely love this coffee! I love your homemade cream on top! Absolutely delicious :)
Hi Judy, this is great stuff! Fun to look at, even more fun to drink. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
A magnificent beverage! I could could drink liters of it. Perfect for celebrating St Paddy's day.
Hi Rosa, it really is magnificent! Although liters would be a bit too much for me. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh do I have a story about Irish Coffee and St. Patty's Day. :) Another time perhaps. I do love Irish coffee and am so glad that you posted this! Since St. Pat's falls on a Sunday this year (I think), this is a great idea for starting the day and serving with a Sunday brunch! No green beer for me - hand me the whiskey please! Looking forward to what else you are dishing up for this holiday! You do like your holidays there at KR! :)
We got to get ready for Irish day:) I just read your post to my husband, he is into Scotch lately, smelling the glass, trying to guess the flavors etc :) Makes me chuckle.
I need to make this one, you think I can use his Scotch? :)
Hi MJ, yeah, we'd kinda crazed when it comes to holidays. ;-) Heck, crazed about everything! Love you hear your story sometime. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ilke, this is a fun drink to make, although I doubt if Scotch would be all that tasty in it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Perfect for St. Patrick's Day and any other day of the year if you ask me. Fantastic photos (again) !
Hi Maureen, isn't this a great drink? Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Really nice photos of the drink, John! All pubs should be serving drinks this gorgeous. I love St. Patrick's day celebration not only because of the delicious corned beef but good drinks like this. Thank you, John and have a good weekend to you and your family! :)
Hi Ray, isn't St. Patrick's Day fun? Great reason to enjoy corned beef and have a nice drink. Or two. ;-) Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
I went to an Irish-themed meal last weekend, and dessert was Irish Coffee pudding.
I'll be doing some flying next week, and the idea of a drink to brace me before the flight is very tempting!
Oh that does look really good - especially today when it is so cold and blustery out!
Hi Beth, Mrs K R and I have been kicking around the idea of an Irish Coffee type of dessert, too. ;-) And isn't flying the pits these days? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Donalyn, this is a wonderful drink whenever the weather is cold! Very warming and comforting. Thanks for the comment.
St. Patrick's Day is a favorite holiday of mine, and Irish coffee is perfect for it! I once had the pleasure of having an Irish coffee in Carlingford, Ireland. Love your pretty whipped cream on top!
Hi Lisa, what a kick it must have been to have had Irish Coffee in Ireland! I'd love to enjoy that experience someday. Thanks for the comment.
I was just thinking about green beer, never tried it. So glad for the heads up. I was just thinking it sounded whimsical, but I think I'd much prefer this coffee. Double the whip cream please! Hope you and the Mrs. are having a lovely weekend.
Hi Gina, green beer if fine if you can find a brand that you'd be drinking anyway - but an awfully lot of it is the cheap stuff. And I'm with you on the double whipped cream! Thanks for the comment.
Irish Coffee is one of those things I had frequently in my single days and let go of when I raised kids and then forgot about it. I loved it - and it is such a warming winter drink! I had no idea it was distilled so early. And you are so right - just two brands choose from here. Ironic - because I still prefer it to Scotch. Love the gentle whipped cream. After all - it's not going on a piece of pie.
Hi Claudia, it really is a warming drink! Delish, too. And it's easier to drink when the cream is barely whipped. But I can't help myself - I just like the looks of a stiffer whipped cream! Thanks for your comment.
We have neighbors (Irish, of course), who have us over often for an Irish coffee. SO fabulous topped with real whipped cream...yours is stunning!
Whiskey with hot coffee, and whipped cream on top? Sounds like a great cocktail to go with late evening dessert in a good company of friends!
Hi Liz, real whipped cream is so good, isn't it? And pile it on top of this drink? Heaven! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Julia, you've described the perfect way to drink this! Thanks for your comment.
I love corned beef it graces our dinner table often through out the year. Your Irish coffee looks great too, you put a lot more liquor in then I would put, but the Irish certainly do know how to drink. Another great post John. Thanks
Hi Lizzie, doesn't corned beef have wonderful flavor? A real favorite here. I can certainly understand wanting to cut back on the amount of booze in this drink, but I wouldn't cut it by more than half (and that's pushing it) - you really do want to taste the whiskey, at least IMO. Thanks for the comment.
Love that cream topping, yum!
I love Irish Coffee. When I use to had my restaurants in the Caribbean, believe or not, I sold a lot of these coffees especially after dinner. There are so delicious. Again the pictures are amazing. Great post.
Hi Raymund, isn't that so attractive? Tasty, too! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Frank, I think this drink is best suited for after dinner. And it's not one people typically drink, so I can see when people are on vacation that they'll indulge. Thanks for the comment.
This was fun to read, thank you for sharing! I need to try this lovely coffee, since I do like booze and coffee!! I can't decide if I want cream in the drink or whipped on top.....guess I will make it twice:-) Take care, Terra
Hi Terra, making it twice is probably the best way - one can never do too much research! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Always a good option! Yum!
Hi Lilly Sue, isn't it nice? Such a great drink! Thanks for your comment.
I am not a coffee drinker, but your photos make this Irish coffee very tempting.
Hi Dawn, it's a great drink! Worth taking up coffee. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow that is quite the big tumbler. Looks gorgeous and I almost picture how delicious this will taste. Have you ever flamed your drink? You should so try this technique because you take awesome photographs and it would be stunning. Cheers to you and a Happy St. Patrick's day to you. Take care, BAM
Hi... I love to have one glass please! I'm a coffee addict and your this gorgeous Irish coffee is to die for. :)) I really like the topping, yum yum!
Have a great week ahead,regards.
I don't recall if I told you that my mother-in-law is from Dublin. She married my father-in-law when she was 21 and moved to Seattle. You can imagine that my husband has quite a bit of Irish in his heritage, and the happens to be one of his favorite drinks. I agree that the whipped cream can't come from a can. Fresh makes the perfect topping.
Hi Bam, it's a great drink! I have flammed drinks before and have the necessary stuff to do it (you need over-proof booze - 151-proof rum is the usual flaming fuel). In fact I thought about doing it last summer when I posted about the Zombie Cocktail. Maybe this summer - I'll be doing another Summer Sippin' Series! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Ameila, if you like coffee, you'll love this drink! And a whipped cream topping is pretty hard to resist, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, no, I don't believe you told me your mother-in-law is from Ireland. And you're right that fresh whipped cream can't be beat. I do like it whipped to the medium peak stage, but it's also awfully good when the whipped cream barely has any shape at all. Thanks for the comment.
151 is sure to kill any colds or viruses brewing as it burns all the way down. Can't wait to see it as that would be quite a fun post. just be careful no ER visits for you.. Take Care, BAM
Hi Bam, actually most of the alcohol burns off. But you're right about being careful - it's the vapor from the alcohol that ignites, and because it's a vapor, it's both volatile and larger than you might think. There can be a definite WHOOSH! when you first light it!
Here I am checking out your recipe. It's definitely nothing like the version our friend makes. He adds brandy. I'll be making this for Mike. Appreciate your recipe!
Hi Kristi, there are plenty of coffee drinks that use brandy, but I don't believe I've ever seen one for Irish Coffee. You definitely want Irish whiskey for that! Otherwise, where's the Irish in it? :-) Hope Mike enjoys it! Thanks for the comment.
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