1.5 oz Powers Gold Label Whiskey
2 tsp Brown Sugar
4 oz Hot Coffee
Unsweetened Whipped Cream
Place a metal spoon in an Irish coffee glass, then fill the glass with boiling water (the spoon will keep the glass from breaking)
Once glass is hot, add sugar, then whiskey
Fill glass to the three-quarters mark with hot coffee
Stir to dissolve sugar
Carefully lay cream atop the drink, filling the rest of the glass
* * *
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
If you’re in Los Angeles today, east of the 405, and you’re looking to get your Irish on, there’s a good chance you might be headed to Tom Bergin’s Tavern. When I lived in the relative vicinity, Bergin’s was my local, and I earned my shamrock (right next to Lars’) chiefly through a series of well-placed Irish Coffees. Aside from Guinness, if you were to ask the average person on the street to name an Irish drink, they’d most likely offer up the Irish Coffee.
In researching today’s post, I looked at a number of recipes, and truth be told, there’s very little variation. Some might choose one whiskey over another, add more or less coffee, or replace granulated sugar with simple syrup, but no one messes with the basic formula established seventy years ago. In picking the right recipe for 12 Bottle Bar, we had our choice of the original Joe Sheridan version, the Buena Vista Café recipe, or more modern spins like the one from master bartender Dale DeGroff. All of these are brilliant, I will not lie, but there was only one recipe that would do for 12 Bottle Bar – the Cashel Palace Hotel’s version.
As far as we’re concerned, Cashel is the very heart and soul of Ireland. It’s at the Rock of Cashel, the towering monolith that overshadows the town, that St. Patrick himself reportedly converted the King of Munster – and all of Ireland, in turn – to Christianity. It’s in Cashel that Richard Guinis (Guinness) planted the first hops that would sire Guinness Stout, and it’s in the room that is now that Guinness Bar at the Cashel Palace Hotel that the contract between Richard Guinis and Archbishop Price was signed for said stout. As the hotel also once served as Archbishop Price’s residence – and it was Price who willed Richard Guinis’ son, Arthur, the money that the younger Guinis would use to start his first brewery – we feel pretty strongly about claiming that Cashel is indeed the center of Ireland. If you accept that logic, then you’ll understand when we say that if you zoom in to the very heart of hearts – from Ireland to Cashel to the Palace Hotel to the Guinness Bar – at the core of it all, you’ll find Denis Heffernan, who has presided over the Guinness Bar for almost forty years.
When I think back on many things I’ve done in my life – such as dinner last Wednesday – the memories are foggy at best, but every moment I spent atop a stool at the Guinness Bar, all ears as Denis regaled us with stories of Richard Harris, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and so many others – not to mention the history of Cashel, the Rock, and Guinness – remains crystal clear. I can’t tell you if Denis can make a Sazerac or a Holland Razor Blade, but he can make a mean Irish Coffee, which tastes all the better as the smell of the peaty fire fills the air.
The history of Irish Coffee, like that of most mixed drinks, is not without a few speed bumps. The most prevalent origin story starts with a chef named Joe Sheridan, who worked at Foynes airbase in Rineanna (later to become Shannon Airport). It was a horrible night in 1942, and unable to battle the storm, a pilot bound for New York radioed that he was turning back to Foynes. Deciding that the passengers would need a good warming up – as well as something to put smiles back on their faces – Sheridan added a shot of whiskey, some brown sugar and a dollop of fresh cream (fresh Irish cream is a wonder) to the glasses. When one of the delighted passengers asked if he was drinking a Brazilian coffee, Sheridan responded with, “No, that’s Irish Coffee.”
The true popularity of Irish Coffee spread when the drink found its way back the States – chiefly to the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco and Tom Bergin’s in Los Angeles – and estimates are that thousands upon thousands will be served today alone. We’ll certainly be having one.
As it was when we were in Cashel, Denis insists that Powers Gold Label whiskey is the only way to go – that it’s the only whiskey which blends properly with the rest of the Irish Coffee ingredients. Unlike our Redbreast, which is a blend of all pot still whiskey, Powers combines malted pot still whiskey with grain whiskey, a common practice which many claim produces a softer tasting spirit. Denis tells us that Powers, which dates back to 1791, is the true whiskey of Ireland – the one that his father and his father’s father drank – and, based on Powers’ popularity within Ireland, he certainly has a point. Of course, if you’re a 12BB purist (good for you!), the Redbreast certainly won’t disappoint.
So, cozy up to an oak bar tonight and order yourself a proper Irish Coffee, for today we’re all Irish. As you do, please accept a hearty Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at 12BB and from our friends in Ireland, who asked us to pass along this message:
Greeting to all the great people all across the Great United States of America. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all from Denis Heffernan and from St. Patrick’s Rock of Cashel, where Christianity began in Ireland in the year 432 AD – Cashel Palace Hotel, Eire
And, to cap it all, like a dollop of fresh Irish cream, here’s Denis in action.