An Irish Coffee brewed for Americans


While adding liquor to warm beverages is an old idea, the story of “Irish Coffee” is one of spur-of-the-moment creativity and a bit of tall-tale telling — designed for Americans but thoroughly Irish.

In 1943, Brendan O’Regan was appointed Catering Comptroller at the Foynes flying boat terminal at Foynes, on the south side of the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick, Ireland. Foynes at the time was one of the island’s primary terminals for early transatlantic flights.

A shrewd entrepreneur, O’Regan recognized the commercial potential of the image of Ireland to foreign visitors, especially Americans. So he redecorated the terminal restaurant to create a strong Irish character and he hired a well-educated, well-polished staff to give foreigners the right impression about the country. O’Regan recruited Joe Sheridan as chef and the restaurant soon developed a fine reputation throughout Ireland.

As the story goes, one night in the winter of 1943, a Pan Am flight was forced by inclement weather to return to Foynes. Once the flight landed, the passengers were brought to the Terminal Restaurant for refreshments and to keep warm.

Asked to prepare something to warm these primarily American passengers, Sheridan added some fortifying Irish whiskey to their coffee. Approaching the chef, one of the passengers asked if his wonderful coffee was Brazilian. “No,” Sheridan is supposed to have replied, “That’s good Irish coffee!”

A couple of weeks later, Sheridan perfected a satisfactory recipe and presentation for his Irish Coffee. He brought the new drink in a stemmed glass to O’Regan, asking, “How about that for eye appeal?” O’Regan declared: “Genius Chef!” and the Irish Coffee was born.

From then on, Irish Coffee was on the menu at Foynes. Once Ireland’s first transatlantic airport was fully operational in 1945, O’Regan was made catering comptroller there. He brought Irish Coffee with him.

Here is Sheridan’s original recipe:

Irish Coffee
1 measure Irish whiskey (2 ounces; Paddy Old Irish Whiskey from Cork is what Sheridan used; Tullamore D.E.W. works well here, as does Bushmills or Jameson; or use Redbreast 15 Year Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey to kick this experience up several notches )
1 measure strong hot black coffee (4-5 ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh whipping cream or double cream

Use a heat-resistant stemmed glass; add the whiskey, then the sugar, and then the hot coffee; float the cream on top of the coffee. This is typically accomplished by slowly pouring the cream over the back of a small spoon or barspoon, so that it falls gently onto the surface of the coffee. Alternatively, spoon whipped cream onto the surface, or even just use one of those whipped cream topping cans (as is common with coffee shop hot chocolate). Irish Coffee can be very appealing indeed.


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