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The Good Life

Irish Coffee

| From Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007
Irish Coffee

Looking for that perfect mixture to keep you up even while you indulge in St. Patrick's Day festivities? Then yours is Irish coffee.

The intriguing mix of sedative and stimulant came from the days of the flying boats, which stopped at Ireland's Foynes Airport on the way to mainland Europe. One night, while fortifying cold and tired passengers with coffee, Joe Sheridan, the airport chef, decided to add some whiskey. When asked if it was Brazilian coffee, he said, "No, it's Irish coffee." And so it became the official welcoming drink at Foynes.

By 1945, the flying-boat era was over, Foynes was closed and its signature drink went searching for a new home. Among conflicting stories is one common thread: in 1952, Sheridan turned up at San Francisco's Buena Vista Café, where he reintroduced Irish coffee to America. The Buena Vista's account differs, but the café now serves up to 2,000 Irish coffees a day.

If the story is complicated, the recipe is easy: Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet, then pour in one shot of Irish whiskey, add a teaspoon of sugar—granulated or brown—and fill with black coffee to one inch of the top. Stir gently and top with untreated heavy cream (absolutely no substitutions), which you've whipped to a froth. Float the cream on top, so the drink resembles a pint of Guinness. Don't stir. It self-mixes when you sip the whiskey and coffee through the cream.

So which Irish whiskey to use? Here are a few recommendations:

Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Malt—The maple and toffee flavors of this great Irish whiskey synergize with coffee and cream. Bushmills 16-Year-Old Single Malt brings licorice and candy notes.

Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection—A smooth, flowery whiskey full of vanilla and spice. When added to coffee, toast and nuts dominate. Jameson and Jameson 12 are also excellent options.

Midleton Very Rare Blend—Exceptionally elegant on its own, this flowery and bready whiskey is somewhat overpowered by the strong coffee. Still a great choice.

Tullamore Dew 12-Year-Old Blend—A mellow whiskey, but a drop of the Dew in Irish coffee produces licorice, vanilla and bread notes.

Knappogue Castle 1994 Single Malt—Tastes of candy, marmalade and nuts when neat, and turns nutty, with licorice, when mixed with coffee and cream.

Connemara Peated Single Malt—Pot stilled and peated, the result is an Irish coffee with chocolate and earth flavors.

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