How To Make Damn Good Irish Coffee

Categories: Last Call

Irish Coffee.JPG
JK Grence
I'm a little sad that winter holiday merriment is coming to a close, but I'm secretly relieved. The constant revelry has taken its toll. I'm digging myself out from under a truckload of cookies. I've been breakfasting on leftover hors d'oeuvres for days. My housework backlog is a mile long because I couldn't say no to all of the party invitations. I don't know about you, but I could use a pick-me-up... and a drink.

See Also:
- Real Holiday Hangover? I'm Here To Help.

One of my favorite winter recovery drinks is Irish Coffee. The light sweetness, warmth, and gentle caffeine kick make it appropriate for after-dinner, or as an indulgent breakfast complement. Like so many classic cocktails, Irish Coffee is a simple affair frequently ruined. For a drink consisting of spiked coffee with sugar, I've had some atrocious ones. Just a little care to detail makes a huge difference.

The first stumbling block on Irish Coffee is temperature. Adding room-temperature liquor to coffee dramatically drops the temperature, making for lukewarm coffee in moments. Heating the mug with hot water before making the drink is vital. If I know I'm going to savor my drink, I'll cheat a little and use my espresso machine's steam wand to give an extra temperature boost.

I've seen a lot of people add a shot of whiskey to a big mug of coffee. That's no fun! I want to taste the whiskey! Properly made Irish Coffee runs as strong as 2 parts coffee to 1 part whiskey. There's no shame in making it a little taller; most Irish Coffee glasses these days are eight ounces (good luck finding a 6 ounce coffee mug without buying a case from a restaurant supply store!), so the ratio is usually closer to 3:1.

There should be sugar, but not too much; 2 teaspoons (two cubes if you're old-school, ½ ounce of simple syrup if you're quick and dirty) does the trick. White sugar is standard; I'm partial to darker Demerara. But, I drink café Cubanos like they're going out of style. It's your call.

Last, the big uh-oh: cream. Lots of people use Baileys Irish Cream because, you know, what better to use in Irish Coffee than Irish Cream? Well, stop it. Proper Irish Coffee gets its alcohol purely from whiskey. Even worse is when it comes with a big cheerful swirl of sweetened aerosol whipped cream. Fully whipped cream is hard to drink (it just makes a cap), and extra sugar pushes the drink too far into dessert territory. Whisk plain cream just until it increases in volume. It should still be liquid, with barely enough bubbles to float atop the coffee. When I make Irish Coffee at Shady's, I pour cream into a very small glass, and buzz it for a couple of seconds with my beloved el cheapo ($2.99!) IKEA milk frother.

Because the cream forms an attractive layer atop the coffee, the drink is best enjoyed in a footed glass. It still tastes just as good if you have it in a ceramic mug, even if it's not quite as aesthetically pleasing.

Irish Coffee
3 ounces very hot strong coffee (or more to taste)
1 ½ ounces Irish whiskey
½ ounce simple syrup (or 2 sugar cubes)
1 ounce cream, lightly whipped

Fill an Irish Coffee glass with very hot water. Once glass is hot, empty glass. Add coffee, whiskey, and simple syrup; stir to fully combine. Gently pour cream over coffee.

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