The Irish Coffee is a classic cocktail featuring hot coffee, Irish whiskey, brown sugar, and a generous float of cream. Its origin traces back to Foynes Airport in Ireland during World War II, where chef and bartender Joe Sheridan allegedly concocted this soothing drink to comfort stranded passengers.
During World War II, Ireland emerged as a significant stopover for planes, with Foynes Port in Limerick evolving into one of Europe's largest civilian airports. Beyond its military role, Foynes gained renown for discreetly ferrying celebrities and key political figures across the Atlantic to the United States.
Serving as a secure refuelling point during the war, Ireland's neutral stance provided planes with a haven. It was free from the threat of attacks, even as the imminent Nazi defeat became evident. The primary concern was not enemy attacks, but the formidable Atlantic weather, which could compel planes to make a U-turn once en route.
In 1942, extreme weather conditions left a group of passengers stranded at the Irish airport. At that time, Foynes had grown into one of the largest civilian airports and a central hub for transatlantic flights, primarily accommodating massive seaplanes.
Facing a double challenge of chilly weather and stranded passengers, Joe Sheridan, a chef and bartender at the airport's restaurant, crafted a special drink. He prepared hot coffee and enhanced it by adding a shot of Irish whiskey to the innocuous mix. To add sweetness to the concoction, he stirred in brown sugar and finished it with a generous dollop of cream. This gave the resulting drink the appearance of a float.
The travellers were extremely pleased with the concoction and inquired if it was Brazilian coffee. Sheridan promptly responded saying, "No, it's Irish coffee.” These words became sort of iconic and finally led to the nomenclature of this homemade wonder.
In the 1950s, Irish coffee made its debut in the United States when Jack Koeppler, owner of the Buena Vista Cafe, and San Francisco travel writer Stanton Delaplane collaborated to replicate a drink frequently featured in Delaplane's travel writings. Following numerous unsuccessful attempts, and with the potential assistance of Joe Sheridan (though this is debated), Jack eventually crafted a recipe that is widely regarded as the introduction of Irish coffee to America. Legend has it that Koeppler faced a challenge as the cream consistently sank in his attempts to recreate the drink. Determined to get it right, he embarked on a journey to Limerick, Ireland, seeking guidance from Sheridan, as he was the original creator of this delightful cocktail.
The Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco continues to serve this same recipe, dishing out 2000 to 2500 Irish coffee orders daily.
Additional accounts even question the extent of Sheridan's contribution to the drink, suggesting that he may not have been the original inventor. This idea is rooted in an account from a Harvard professor of Irish Studies, and on the argument that the addition of cream and sugar was more likely intended to mask the taste of coffee during World War II than to warm up stranded passengers on a particular night.
From modest origins to its current status as one of history's most beloved drinks, Irish coffee owes its popularity to a chef, a touch of Irish humour, and an Atlantic storm.
Fill a footed mug or a mug with hot water to preheat it, then empty.
Pour piping hot coffee into a warmed glass until it is about 3/4 full.
Add the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
Blend in Irish whisky.
Top with a collar of the whipped heavy cream by pouring gently over the back of a spoon. Serve hot.