Once she had kids, my mom realized that hard liquor was
one aspect of Ireland she wasn’t going to share. She did, however,
share the food. Every St. Patrick’s Day, she cooked up a big pot of
corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. We also had to wear green on the
Irish holiday or risk being pinched. The worst thing was when my mom
snuck into my room while I was still sleeping, woke me up and pinched
me because I didn’t have any green on. I was fighting Irish mad. I
think I could have benefited from a shot of whiskey at that point.
After I grew up, getting pinched on St. Patrick’s Day was
the least of my worries. My first St. Paddy’s parade in Jackson, Miss.,
was cold and rainy. I stood without an umbrella under the drizzle and
grabbed beads out of the sludge in the gutters. Next to us, tipsy
ladies in big pink hats drank vodka to keep the tipsiness going. All I
wanted to drink was something hot.
The desire for warmth was what prompted the invention of
Irish coffee. In the late 1930s, Americans traveling to Ireland had to
endure a damp, cold, 18-hour seaplane flight. When they arrived in
Foynes, in County Limerick, passengers very much appreciated a cup of
hot coffee or tea.
Head chef Joseph Sheridan, who worked for the Foynes
catering service, thought that passengers might like something with a
bit more kick to it. After a lot of trial and error and late-night
tasting sessions, Sheridan came up with the perfect concoction: Irish
In 1947, when the Shannon International
Airport opened across the river from Foynes, Irish coffee became the
official welcoming drink.
Here in the United States, on Nov. 10,
1952, at the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, then-owner Jack
Koeppler and international travel writer Stanton Delaplane set out to
discover the secret of Ireland’s coffee-with-a-kick. After much
research, taste testing and a field trip to the Shannon Airport, the
recipe was perfected. Irish coffee is now served throughout the world
and has been enjoyed by everyone from Fidel Castro to movie actress
Maureen O’Hara and George H. W. Bush.
Claire McEnery, a media representative
from the Shannon Airport, confirmed that Irish coffee is still served
there today. She also shared Joe Sheridan’s personal recipe. There are
only four ingredients in an Irish coffee: coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar
and whipping cream. It’s the correct assembly of the ingredients that
makes or breaks the drink.
For those who are skeptical about the double-bad whammy
of caffeine and alcohol, consider this: A study was released last year
that proved that coffee actually diminishes the effects of alcohol on
the liver. Hey, we Irish could have told you that years ago. So, lift
your glasses high, throw back that red hair (or whatever color), and as
the Irish say, Slainte!
Heat a clear-glass mug by filling it with hot water. Pour
in one shot (one ounce) of Irish whiskey. (This is an approximation.
I’m a wimp when it comes to hard liquor, so I used about a tablespoon.)
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and strong black coffee up to an
inch below the rim of the glass. Stir gently. Top with a good inch of
whipping cream. (The whipping cream is the most important part, in my
opinion. Get the heavy whipping cream and whip it when it’s cold.)
The coffee is meant to be drunk through the layer of whip
cream. It’s actually a delightful experience; the creaminess softens
the taste of the whiskey and sweetens the coffee.
This article originally appeared in the Jackson, Miss., Free Press.