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8 Bartenders Reinvent the Irish Coffee

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Cut Clasp (or Nail in the Coffee) by Silas Axtell at Boston’s Townsman

According to lore, the Irish Coffee was first served to stranded winter travelers in Limerick, Ireland, back in the 1940s. The drink made its way to the States in the 1950s, and despite some differences of opinion in who should be credited for its creation and subsequent popularity, the coffee and whiskey combo remains a favorite to this day. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked a bit, so to honor the celebrated drink—right on time for St. Patrick’s Day—eight Irish (or part-Irish) bartenders present their take on the hot brew. Read on for their inventive takes on the classic warmer.

Irish Goodbye by Ted Kilpatrick (Roof at Park South and O Ya, New York City)

“The inspiration for the drink is sort of based on the relationship between the beer and the coffee,” says Kilpatrick. “Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout and Counter Culture cold brew really compliment each other, firstly, and coffee used as the bittering agent, or the ingredient used to balance the cocktail (a la bitters in an Old Fashioned), is an interesting concept to me. All of the important building blocks are there in this cocktail, just in counterintuitive versions of themselves. Spirit Redbreast 12-year, sweetener Allen’s and vanilla syrup, bittering agent coffee and Brooklyn Black Chocolate.”


  • 1.5 oz Redbreast 12-year whiskey
  • .5 oz Allen’s Coffee brandy
  • .5 oz Tahitian vanilla syrup
  • 2 oz Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate stout
  • 2 oz Counter Culture cold brew
  • 3 drops Angostura bitters

In a highball glass, stir together the whiskey, brandy and vanilla syrup. Then fill the remaining glass half with Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout and half with Counter Culture cold brew. Add 3 drops of Angostura bitters, and swirl with a straw.

The Unlikely Union by Derek Schreck (Tom Bergin’s, Los Angeles)

“This is an Italian-inspired Irish Coffee, blending strong natures of Italian spirits with the traditional Irish Coffee format,” says Schreck. “It features Galliano, Fernet Branca Menta and vanilla-infused Irish cream. It’s earthy and herbaceous, balanced with a subtle sweetness.”

Jakob N. Layman

  • 1/2 oz Galliano liqueur
  • 1 1/2 oz Fernet Branca Menta
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 oz dark-roast coffee
  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla Irish cream*

Warm a Toddy glass by filling it with hot water. Once the glass is warm, dump out the water. Add the Galliano, Fernet and simple syrup. Fill with dark-roast coffee, leaving about a 1/4-inch of room at the top. Gently float the cream on top.

*Vanilla Irish cream: Combine 1 1/2 cups heavy Irish cream or heavy whipping cream and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Whip until it’s just thick enough to stick to an overturned finger.

Cut Clasp (or Nail in the Coffee) by Silas Axtell (Townsman, Boston)

“This Irish Coffee spin is inspired by the classic cocktail the Rusty Nail, made with Drambuie and Scotch whisky,” says Axtell. “The name Cut Clasp comes from a type of nail used in more antique style construction. My grandfather used to pull them out of old floorboards to use in all of his construction projects; they’re nostalgic for me since I ended up being the one hammering them into the floorboards in all of his houses. I love how the orange whipped cream adds a sweetness and more delicate fragrance to the drink that balances out the bolder flavors in the coffee and scotch.”

  • 1 oz Great King Street Glasgow Blend Scotch whisky
  • 1 oz Drambuie
  • 3 oz hot coffee
  • 4 oz orange whipped cream*
  • Dash of ground-toasted juniper

Stir the whisky, Drambuie and coffee together in a glass mug, and top with the cream. Sprinkle with ground-toasted juniper.

*Orange whipped cream: Whip together in a cocktail shaker or bottle the zest of half an orange, 4 ounces heavy cream and 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar.

Irish Joe by Bernard McNamee (Tanner Smith’s, New York City)

“When creating our version of the classic Irish Coffee, we wanted to be respectful of the origins of the drink and add a flavor profile that complimented the drink,” says McNamee. “Our decision to use Jameson Caskmates was based on the product being aged in former stout barrels, which helped add accents of cocoa, chocolate and butterscotch—all flavor profiles that we associate with coffee. Our house-made clove and Demerara syrup provides the right amount of sweetness.”

Ashley Sears

  • 1 1/2 oz of Jameson Caskmates whiskey
  • 4 oz Tanner Smith’s custom coffee blend from Long Island City Roasters
  • 3/4 oz of clove and Demerara syrup*
  • Float of cool unsweetened heavy cream
  • Dash of nutmeg

Add warm water to an Irish Coffee glass to warm it up, then dump it out. Add the whiskey, coffee and syrup, and stir. Then dry shake or whip the cream to obtain the correct texture, and gently spoon this onto the top of the coffee to make it float starting from the edges. Shave the fresh nutmeg onto the cream.

*Demerara and clove syrup: Heat 32 ounces of water and 4 cups Demerara sugar gently to dissolve the sugar, and add 25 cloves to 32 ounces of syrup. Leave the cloves in the syrup for 24 hours, then fine-strain to remove them.

The Irish Stout by Matt Ragan (Victor Tangos, Dallas)

“Since Texas is usually unbearably hot, I started thinking about an Irish Coffee we can drink here more than just three days a year,” says Ragan. “Also, I’m a huge beer nerd, so any time I can sneak a little malted barley beverage into a drink, I’m going to. Here is my smash-up of the Irish Coffee and a Beer Float: an Irish Stout.”

  • 1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
  • 1/2 oz Varnelli Caffè Moka coffee liqueur
  • 1 oz strong cold brew coffee
  • 3 oz Southern Tier Mokah Imperial stout
  • 1/2 oz vanilla syrup
  • Dollop of vanilla crème anglaise*

Add the whiskey, liqueur and coffee in a shaker tin. Add three ice cubes, and give the tin a quick shake. Strain into a tulip glass, and top with the stout. Finish with the vanilla crème anglaise.

*Vanilla crème anglaise: Heat 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in medium saucepan until bubbles start to form around the edges. While it’s heating, whisk 4 egg yolks and 1/3 cup of sugar together. Pour 1/2 cup of hot cream slowly into the egg yolks and mix. Then slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan of cream. Cook and stir constantly, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.

Duff’s Delicious Deconstructed Porter Irish Coffee by spirits educator Philip Duff (Liquid Solutions, New York City)

“The Irish Coffee was designed to look like a Guinness, so it was fun to reimagine an Irish Coffee variant that uses Guinness,” says Duff. “Adding some house-made cold-drip coffee syrup to Guinness gives it greater depth and flavor intensity, as well as a delicious sweetness that’s perfectly balanced by the famous creamy crown Guinness bears and the pleasing roundness of a good pure pot-still whiskey like Powers John’s Lane. ”

Image: Greg Buda/The Dead Rabbit

  • 10 oz Guinness or Murphy’s porter
  • 1 oz cold-drip coffee syrup*
  • 1 oz Powers John’s Lane or Midleton pure pot-still Irish whiskey

Pour a 10- to 12-ounce glass half-full of a good quality porter such as Guinness or Murphy’s. Gently stir in about 1 ounce of the coffee syrup. Fill the glass with more porter, and very carefully stir to mix further, taking care not to disturb the creamy head. In a glass beside the porter, pour 1 ounce or more of good-quality pure pot-still Irish whiskey, such as Powers John’s Lane or Midleton. Sip from the glass of porter, and chase it with the whiskey.

*Cold-drip coffee syrup: Mix cold-drip coffee with rich sugar syrup (made with 2 parts sugar dissolved into 1 part warm water) in equal parts.

Cheeky Charlie by John O’Donnell (Crush and La Comida, Las Vegas)

“I consider myself to be a traditionalist, and to be a traditionalist, you have to be a bit cheeky,” says O’Donnell. “I wanted to demonstrate that through the ingredients in my Cheeky Charlie. The flavors of the ginger liqueur and Licor 43 really add an element of cocktail cheekiness to this recipe.”

  • 1 oz Jameson
  • 1 oz Licor 43 liqueur
  • 5 oz freshly brewed coffee
  • 2 sugar cubes
  • 1/2 oz Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1 1/2 oz fresh cream
  • 1 piece crystallized ginger

Pour the Jameson and Licor 43 into an Irish Coffee glass with the coffee and sugar cubes, and mix with a hot spoon. Hand-whisk the ginger liqueur with the fresh cream until fluffy, and layer the mixture on top of the glass. Garnish with the crystallized ginger.

The Irish Exit by Kyle O’Brien (Hotel Chantelle and The Regal, New York City)

“Growing up in an Irish household, I was no stranger to drinks served at room temperature, as that is part of the Irish culture,” says O’Brien. “Once I was of legal drinking age, I wanted to have my drinks a bit more tundra than my Nana made them, so this chilled Irish coffee came from wanting a colder beverage.”

  • 1 oz Jameson Irish whiskey
  • 1/2 oz Galliano Ristretto coffee liqueur
  • 3 oz iced coffee
  • Float of Guinness stout
  • Dollop of dulce de leche whipped cream*
  • Dash of nutmeg

Pour the whiskey, coffee liqueur and coffee over ice in a pint or jar glass. Top with a floater of Guinness. Finish with the dulce de leche whipped cream, and add nutmeg for an extra nutty cinnamon taste.

*Dulce de leche whipped cream: Whip 2 cups of heavy cream to soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons of dulce de leche, and continue whipping until blended.

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