irishcoffeeFoynes, Ireland (1942)

There’s few things more satisfying and comforting than a well-made Irish Coffee. The cool cream blends with the hot coffee as you take that first sip, backed up by the mellow nip of Irish whiskey and sweet rich sugar. Perfect for a rainy afternoon pick-me-up or for a turbo-charged dessert.

To make this really special, you’ll want to pay attention to the details, starting with the whiskey. Irish whiskey is mellow, the softer predecessor to wild country Scotch whisky. I prefer Redbreast in this – it’s an old-style whiskey made in pot stills that give spirits more body and funk than column stills (those make for cleaner, crisper spirits). That extra bit of character stands up well when mixed with bold coffee.

For the coffee, go for the best you can produce at home. Use a medium roast (darker if you prefer) and grind your beans fresh. Use a French Press or a pour-over kit to make the coffee (drip coffee makers generally don’t get the water hot enough to extract the best flavor). Make it on the strong side since you’ll be diluting it with whiskey. For the sugar, go with demerara or turbinado sugar – that extra bit of molasses softens and unifies the coffee and whiskey where white sugar would be cutting and sharp. If you don’t have the right sugar on hand, mix half white sugar and half brown sugar – that’ll get you close enough. And for the whipped cream: sorry to say, but you gotta whip it fresh. Premade and presweetened whipped cream isn’t the right texture, won’t float on top, and has sweetness that will nuke your beautiful drink.

This is an example where specific glassware makes a difference: Many places use a larger handled 8.5-ounce glass that encourages a bit too much coffee in the mix. To do this drink proper, buy a set of the 6-ounce Libbey “Georgian” glasses they used in the original (made during World War II at a coastal seaplane port) and at The Buena Vista in San Francisco (where they make up to 2,000 Irish Coffees a day).


Hardware: Jigger, Plastic Measuring Cup, Teaspoon measure, Kettle, French Press (or pour-over kit), Standing mixer (or whisk), Barspoon
Glassware: 6-ounce Irish Coffee glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Redbreast, Jameson, Tullamore DEW)
Mixer: Coffee
Accents & Garnishes: Demerara sugar, Freshly-whipped heavy cream


Boil enough water to prepare your coffee, plus a bit extra. When boiled, fill your Irish Coffee glass with boiling water to preheat, then prepare your coffee. While the coffee is brewing, in a standing mixer (or by hand using a whisk), whip 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken. Stop before you get to soft peaks – the cream should be thick but still pourable. When the coffee is ready, pour out the boiling water that was added to the Irish Coffee glass.

In the glass, combine:
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
scant 1/2 cup coffee

Stir well to mix and dissolve sugar, then slowly ladle the cold whipped cream over the top to float – just enough to fill the glass, no more. Distribute and level the whipped cream with the back of a barspoon.

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Bay Area, California (1960s)

For dessert sometime, consider this impossible-to-hate variation on The Dude’s “Caucasian” – with freshly-whipped cream on top and a dusting of grated coffee bean as reimagined by Sam Ross. Yes, it’s sweet, and yes it has vodka in it. And it’s awesome. Born from the “Black Russian” cocktail out of Belgium (!!) in the late ’40s, the White Russian upped the decadence in the ’60s by adding cream. The ’60s? Decadent? Say it ain’t so!

The standard way you’ve probably seen this drink is all three ingredients slopped together over ice in a rocks glass. But here’s an idea: It’s dessert. It’s supposed to be a special treat. Kick back and feel as guilty as you want. Or not.

If you can track down the amazing House Spirits coffee liqueur or St. George Firelit, do so – it makes a difference. But Kahlúa works just fine if you come up short. And don’t substitute sweetened whipped cream – it’s sweet enough already. If you don’t have an electric mixer, a few minutes whipping the heavy cream by hand with a whisk will help offset some of these calories!

Just don’t blame me if drinking this makes you want to twist up a fatty and crank up the Floyd.

Hardware:Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Standing mixer (or whisk), Microplane
Ice:Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirit:Vodka (recommended: Absolut, Karlsson’s Gold)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Coffee liqueur (recommended: House Spirits, St. George Firelit, Kahlúa)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes:Heavy cream, Coffee bean

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a standing mixer (or by hand), whip 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken. Stop before you get to soft peaks – the cream should be thick but still pourable.

In a mixing glass about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz coffee liqueur

Stir well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Leave room in the glass for cream. Gently pour just enough whipped cream to top off – distribute and level the cream with the barspoon. Using a microplane, grate a coffee bean in the center of the cream to garnish.

Licking the glass clean at the end is perfectly acceptable, don’t be ashamed.

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