Behind the Bar: Irish Coffee

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Gaelic Coffee (as it was called in the Old Country) was, according to legend, discovered by Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane at Ireland’s Shannon Airport not too long after the Second World War. He casually slipped the recipe to Jack Koeppler, owner of The Buena Vista Cafe near Fisherman’s Wharf. The two perfected the caffeinated concoction, and the rest is, of course, history.

But the secrets to making a great Irish Coffee are really so simple that they are often overlooked. First, it is not a large drink. Bars all over the United States place a premium on everything that is big. In this case, going too huge will ruin the prospects of a fine Irish Coffee. So, choose the vessel wisely; the small bell-shaped glass that Libbey has been providing to The Buena Vista for decades is a nice size at six ounces.

You also don’t need a giant pour of Irish whiskey. Delaplane and Koeppler’s recipe calls for a one-ounce shot. I know it seems stingy, but do not be put off—it’s actually good news. That liquor, along with three-and-a-half ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee and three-quarters of an inch of lightly whipped cream, is so delicious you’ll want to consume at least two more.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Three Tips for Making Irish Coffee:

1. Use a stemmed glass no larger than eight ounces. (With an eight-ounce glass, you can go up to one-and-a-half ounces of Irish whiskey. I am partial to Jameson.)

2. Top with no more than four ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee.

3. Lightly whip the cream. It should not form peaks, but it should be frothy enough to float, creating that perfect separation of coffee from cream, which is, after all, the signature of the drink.

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisor.

Recipes: Irish Coffee
Brands: Jameson

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  1 Comment.


  • Gerry Coard posted 6 years ago

    re: Behind the Bar - Irish Coffee.
    The Irish Coffee legend did indeed originate at Shannon International Airport, but goes further back in time.
    This is purported to be the real story of it`s discovery. The first Trans Atlantic flights had to land at Shannon to refuel and journey on to London and Paris. The passengers had not the comforts of modern air travel and were freezing cold after the long trip from the States.When they arrived at the terminal the first thing most of them ordered was hot coffee. A sympathetic barman could`nt help but notice how cold they always were, instinctivey spiked their very hot coffee with whiskey,included sugar for energy and cream.
    The passengers,after thawing out a bit, raved about the coffee to the barman, saying, "Gee, that`s really great coffee,what is it ? " he replied," That`s a Gaelic Coffee. "
    ,he barman,it is said,spiked the coffee on his own initiative,local whiskeys cost very little then,and I`m sure he was tipped well by the Americans. I´m Irish born and have heard this story in many parts of Ireland,told and verified to me by people who should know.

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