CocktailsDrinks

The Irish Coffee That Just May Be the Best in the World

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Back when I lived in Boston and worked at a museum, one of my fellow museum educators hosted an annual New Year’s Day brunch. This was my first ever exposure to a New Year’s Day brunch, though I don’t quite know how I ever made it halfway through my 20’s before I discovered that people like to eat like this on the first of the year. Perhaps even more importantly, it was my first exposure to Irish coffee.

A couple of hours into the brunch, the host and a couple of his buddies snuck off into the kitchen and came back out with milky drinks topped with whipped cream. I always want anything covered with whipped cream, so I asked what it was and if I could have one. I was led to a side counter displaying a bottle or whiskey, a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and a can of Reddi-wip and was allowed to have at the creation of my own mug of their version of Irish coffee. I enjoyed it heartily.

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The Dead Rabbit's Irish Coffee
The Dead Rabbit's Irish Coffee

Once I stopped going to this New Year’s brunch party, Irish coffee slipped my mind until this year. Suddenly, this week, as I faced the prospect of true, deep winter—which meets you right after all of the winter holidays are over—I thought of Irish coffee and resolved to enjoy a cup immediately. (Now there’s a New Year’s resolution!) But, I figured now that I know a bit more about spirits, I should try a bit harder in my Irish coffee execution. Why not try to make the best Irish coffee in the world?

This turns out to be less of a challenge than it sounds like it should be. Why? Well, there is a bar in New York City’s financial district called The Dead Rabbit. It’s deservedly famous in the bar world. In fact, this year The Dead Rabbit was crowned the best bar in the world. Irish coffee is their signature drink. Ergo, it seems likely their Irish coffee is the best in the world.

Don't be shy about the whipped cream.
Don't be shy about the whipped cream. Photo by Emily Vikre

I can’t skip over to NYC to nab a freshly made Irish coffee, but luckily, it is possible to dig up the recipe for The Dead Rabbit’s famous drink (you can actually try your hand at many of their cocktails since they released a book of recipes a little bit over a year ago). The Irish coffee is very simple, with no frills or fripperies and just good versions of the essential ingredients, thoughtfully combined.

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Here are a few things that set the drink apart:

  • No mucking about with Bailey’s here—just whiskey.
  • The coffee should be hot, but not be allowed to sit and burn.
  • Demerara sugar is used as a sweetener for its for rich, toffee-like notes.
  • The coffee and sugar should be combined before they are added to the whiskey.
  • The cream should be very softly whipped and well-chilled to provide a striking texture and temperature contrast to the hot spiked coffee underneath.

And that’s it. The best Irish coffee.

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The Dead Rabbit's Irish Coffee

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Serves 1
  • 1.25 ounces Irish whiskey (they recommend Power's Gold Label or Clontarf 1014)
  • 4 ounces hot, but not scalded coffee (about 75°C)
  • 5/8 ounce Rich Demerara syrup (combine two parts demerara sugar to one part water and cook until the sugar dissolves; keep until needed)
  • 1 ounce heavy cream, softly whipped

Tell us: Do you have an Irish coffee recipe you consider 'the best'?

Fiveandspice, a.k.a. Emily Vikre, is a writer, self-described "food policy wonk," and co-founder of Vikre Distillery. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota. You can read more of her writing here.