The Secret to the Perfect Irish Coffee

Words: Shamim de Brún

Words: Shamim de Brún

Today is National Irish Coffee Day. There is suddenly a day for everything. We all have a love-hate relationship with the idea of “National X Days”. Today I love them because I get to tell you about Irish Coffee. 

I fucking love Irish Coffee. Even people who don’t like whiskey tend to enjoy Irish Coffee. With a colour scheme that complements Guinness to no end, it’s easy to see how the Irish Coffee became a symbol of Irishness internationally. 

Alcoholic Coffee went mainstream in the early 1900s, and as far as we can tell, Irish Coffee was invented in 1943. We can’t say whether it was made on our green shores since Coffee came to us in the late 1600s. But it seems pretty unlikely that no one thought to put whiskey in Coffee in 300 years. However, if anyone did, they didn’t write it down.  

The man officially credited with the “invention” of the Irish Coffee is Joe Sheridan. Sheridan was a chef in Foynes Port near Limerick, where many international flights came and went from. Legend has it that one day, after a plane abandoned its trip and turned back to Foynes, Joe whipped up something to help the passengers forget about the cold and their disappointment. As the story goes, everyone drank their drinks in total silence, savouring the unique taste. Finally, someone asked Joe if they were drinking Brazilian Coffee, to which he heartily replied, “No, that’s Irish Coffee.”

Joe Sheridan serving Irish Coffee to Marilyn Monroe

Irish Coffee became a huge success and an airport speciality. It was introduced to the rest of the world in 1952 by travel writer Stanton Delaplane. He brought it to Jack Koeppler, a bartender in San Francisco, and “persuaded” him to recreate it. 

That spot in San Francisco was called the Buena Vista, and it went on to become renowned for Irish Coffees. The busiest day they ever had was Super Bowl Sunday 1982. That day, three bartenders served 109 bottles of whiskey between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The night shift served another 104, meaning the pub served well over 6,000 drinks that day. From there, it slowly conquered the world by word of mouth. 

How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee

Although whisky and coffee go together well, it’s not as simple as throwing them together in a mug. It takes more thought, more care and more deliberation than that. The key to perfecting the Irish Coffee is balance: Not too much coffee, whiskey, sugar, or cream. The cream should never be sweetened, and the drink should look like a perfectly poured Guinness when served.

Getting the cream to sit on top is a skill that lies in choosing the cream. There are all sorts about the back of spoons and angles that help, but the toppest tip is to go for the thicker, heavier cream; because the different densities stop them from mixing like oil and water. 

Like whisky, coffee varies a great deal depending on its origin and how it has been processed. I think a natural Ethiopian filter coffee is the best for Irish coffee if you’re into your coffee, but that’s just me being particular. As long as you don’t burn your coffee, all will be well.  

The best whiskey for an Irish coffee depends on how you like your whiskey. Theoretically, the better whiskey you use, the better your Irish Coffee will be. Some people say you should use only your cheap and cheerful whiskey in an Irish coffee, but that disrespects the drink. 

We all know high-quality ingredients make high-quality drinks. This is no exception. But, and I will put a caveat here, if you’re mad for the sugar, there is no point in going for a delicate whiskey. It won’t keep up. So instead, it would be best if you had a spicey dram. Think Pot Still or anything someone in your local bottle shop describes as having “Christmas cake” flavours. 

My go-to is Paddy. ​​Blended to perfection with triple distilled pot still, malt and grain whiskeys and matured for many years in oak casks, this bad boy plays ball with the sugar and Coffee as if it was designed to tackle them head-on. 

Give it a Go:


– 50ml Paddy Irish whiskey
– 120ml brewed coffee, hot
– 25ml demerara syrup (one part demerara sugar, one part water)
– Heavy cream, lightly whipped

1. Fill a glass with hot water to warm.
2. When the glass is warm, discard the water
3. Add the whiskey, coffee and demerara syrup, and give it a stir.
4. Add top layer of heavy cream slowly
5. Garnish with coffee beans if you wanna be fancy

Controversially I prefer to sweeten my Irish Coffee with a thimble full of sherry than sugar. It’s unusual but it’s worth trying if only to say you did. 

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