Once upon a late St. Patrick’s Day evening, two companions and I changed our orders from pints of Smithwick’s ale to mugs of Irish Coffee, and an argument ensued. I posited that the point of mixing coffee and whiskey was to stay up later and drink more spirit. On my left came the opinion that whiskey was meant to reduce the jangled nerves from the caffeine. The third view was that the coffee was meant to warm you on the walk home. As is often the case, we got to the bottom of more glasses than we got closer to the bottom of the conundrum.
Each position has its merits, but the third has an anecdotal backing. The story goes that passengers on airboats to Europe in the 1940s were given the drink to warm them when they stopped over in County Clare. If it seems odd that such a classic combination was invented so late in the history of drink, well, plenty of spirit-and-coffee combos preceded it. What sets Irish Coffee apart is the presentation: a layer of coffee and whiskey in a glass mug with a floater of cream on top. Furthermore, this beauty is made, of course, with Irish whiskey, a dram that is so suited to java. It’s flavorful enough to hold its own against strong coffee, yet smooth enough that it doesn’t aggravate an already acidic beverage.
The problem with making this simple drink is that the traditional vessels (glass mugs with a base) come in sizes that differ from six ounces to 10. That can require adjusting the amounts to make the ratio of dark liquid to cream look right (about 4 to 1) and still fill the mug. You’ll make adjustments, but a good starting point is 1 ½ ounces whiskey stirred into a half ounce of simple syrup and 4.5 ounces fresh brewed coffee. Whip heavy cream in a separate container and top the drink. Do not stir. The combination self mixes as you drink through.