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