How to Perfect Your Irish Coffee

A celebration of the ideal winter drink on National Irish Coffee Day — with some recipe assistance from two iconic bars

January 25, 2023 7:13 am
The Irish Coffee, popularized at the Buena Vista in San Francisco
The Irish Coffee, popularized at the Buena Vista in San Francisco
Mike Falco

It seems obvious now: The best winter drink should always involve hot coffee and whisky in some form. 

But Irish Coffee is a relatively young drink. A quick recap: This sterling winter tipple got its start at the Foynes Airport in the midwest of Ireland in 1942, where a seaplane on its way from New York to Rome ran into engine trouble and landed. A chef at the airport, Joe Sheridan, whipped up a hot drink of coffee, cream, Irish whiskey and sugar. One passenger, a San Francisco newspaper writer named Stanton Delaplane, became obsessed with this “Gaelic coffee,” and his passion eventually led to the drink’s recreation at the Buena Vista Cafe a decade later.

“The Buena Vista started serving Irish Coffees in 1952 and now makes an average of 2,000 Irish Coffees a day,” explains Tim Herlihy, co-founder of Lost Irish (an Irish whiskey that’s made from casks sourced from six continents and triple distilled using all three whiskey production styles.) and co-author of From Barley to Blarney: A Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland with NYC’s heralded team at the Irish pub The Dead Rabbit. “It’s become an icon for Ireland’s favorite cocktail.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Hacking Your Irish Coffee
It’s a simple four-ingredient cocktail. But you can and should go wild with those ingredients.

(Herlihy, The Dead Rabbit and Buena Vista Cafe are all actually coming together to showcase Irish Coffee and other Irish whiskey/coffee drinks like The Frozen Irish and Irish Whiskey Espresso Martini this Wednesday — National Irish Coffee Day — at a themed pop-up at The Dead Rabbit. You can get tickets here.)

So that’s for New Yorkers. If you’re in San Francisco, you should stop by Buena Vista to try their iconic take on the cocktail. “The Buena Vista isn’t just known for its Irish Coffee, it’s known for its bar theatre and showmanship,” says Herlihy (who, speaking of showmanship, actually holds a world record for creating the largest Irish Coffee ever at 234 gallons). “The first time I went to the Buena Vista, the bartender Larry was making a dozen Irish Coffees at a time at a rapid pace. Larry, was as much a talented bartender as he was a talented magician and would entertain guests with a series of magic tricks in between serving Irish Coffees. A belter of an Irish Coffee and must-visit iconic bar.”

Below, a few recipes for Irish Coffee — one from Herlihy, one that I tried and loved in Ireland in December at the Teeling distillery, a unique American/Irish take on the beverage from Minnesota’s Keeper’s Heart and a non-alcoholic version from Kate Wise at Hotel Vermont. Also if you want to hack the recipe, it’s quite easy to modify.

Irish Coffee by The Lost Irish
Irish Coffee by Tim Herlihy, co-founder of Lost Irish
Joanna Lin

Irish Coffee by Tim Herlihy

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 10 mins

Servings: 1

  • 1.5 oz Lost Irish Irish whiskey
  • .5 oz demerara syrup
  • 3.5 oz dark roast coffee
  • Thumb of prepared Heavy Cream (36% fat content)
    1. Pre-heat a 6-ounce, heatproof glass by filling it with hot water. Once warm, empty the glass.

    2. Add whiskey, simple syrup and coffee to the glass, and quickly stir to combine the ingredients.

    3. Float a thumb layer of cream over the top.

Dublin Coffee
Dublin Coffee from Teeling

Dublin Coffee from Teeling

Prep Time: 5 mins

Cook Time: 15 mins

Total Time: 20 mins

Servings: 1

  • 1.5 parts Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
  • 4 parts local coffee roast
  • .5 part stout syrup*
  • Bar spoon of heavy cream
    1. Stout syrup: 33 oz. Craft Stout beer, 35 oz. Muscovado dark sugar, 1 part juniper berries, .5 part whole cloves, 5 cinnamon sticks, 2 star anise, 1 peel of an orange, pinch of sea salt

    2. In a warmed glass, mix Teeling Whiskey, brewed coffee, syrup and stir to combine.

    3. Top with cream from the back of a bar spoon.

    4. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Keeper's Heart Irish Whiskey
Keeper’s Heart Irish Whiskey
Keeper’s Heart

Keeper’s Heart Irish Coffee

Prep Time: 5 mins

Cook Time: 5 mins

Total Time: 10 mins

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz Keeper’s Heart whiskey
  • .66 oz pure MN maple syrup
  • 10 oz hot coffee
  • 1 scoop clotted cream
    1. Add Keeper’s Heart and maple syrup to the mug followed by coffee.

    2. Garnish with a heavy dollop of clotted cream

Temperance Coffee from Hotel Vermont
Temperance Coffee from Kate Wise at Hotel Vermont
Hotel Vermont

Temperance Irish Coffee

Prep Time: 5 mins

Cook Time: 5 mins

Total Time: 10 mins

Servings: 1

  • .75 oz brown sugar syrup
  • 5 oz hot coffee (preferably Brio)
  • Maple whip*
    1. Prep Brown Sugar Syrup: Combine equal parts brown sugar and hot water. Stir until dissolved.

    2. Prep Maple Whip: Add 8 oz heavy cream (Monument Farms) and .75 oz Vermont maple syrup to a 16 oz mason jar. Cover tightly and shake until the cream doubles in volume. This can take up to five minutes

    3. In your favorite mug (bonus points if you have an Irish Coffee glass) combine brown sugar syrup and coffee.

    4. Top with hand-shaken maple whip. Pour over a spoon just above the surface of the coffee to keep the cream layered on top.


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