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

January  5, 2017

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.

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?

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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. 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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Top Comment:
“A half glass of Baileys with a shot of Jamison's ( how one cannot unite the two very good Irish spirits ain't Irish), add whipped cream, and the Dead Rabbit can learn something.”
— Paul C.

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.

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.

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (www.vikredistillery.com), where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


Zack G. January 8, 2017
Hi! I'm from Ireland and that's a pretty good Irish Coffee recipe and here's my simple rules to follow to help you all make a perfect Irish Coffee :)
The important rules for making a perfect Irish Coffee are:

1. Whip the cream before you start!
2. Make sure your Coffee is hot.
3. Heat the Glass with boiling water before you assemble the drink, but place a teaspoon into the glass before you add the hot water and this will stop the glass from cracking.
4. Pour out the water and 3/4 fill your glass with hot strong coffee.
5. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, but don't take too long doing it!
6. Add the whiskey and stir it well so that the coffee is still turning gently when you are putting the cream on top.
7. Never mind about pouring the cream over the back of a spoon or any of that nonsense! Simply dip your teaspoon into a glass of hot water and quickly, but carefully, scoop the whipped cream and place it on top of the hot coffee. The hot spoon will make it slide on to the Irish coffee.
8. Three or Four teaspoons of lightly whipped cream will be sufficient and it will float perfectly on top of your Irish Coffee if you have followed all of the above simple steps.
Check out my Irish Food Guide Blog at http://www.irishfoodguide.ie/
nancy E. January 5, 2018
That's pretty much what the article just said, only in less words
Paul C. January 6, 2017
As me Mum was from the Emerald Isle, I must say there is no such thing as 'mucking around with Bailey's'! A half glass of Baileys with a shot of Jamison's ( how one cannot unite the two very good Irish spirits ain't Irish), add whipped cream, and the Dead Rabbit can learn something.
nancy E. January 5, 2018
I love bailey's in mine as well
Marie January 6, 2017
I saved this NY Times Cooking article in my Pinterest gallery a loong time ago. You just reminded me to go check it out, and I see it's from the very same bar!
foofaraw January 5, 2017
I don't have demerara sugar, but have dark coconut sugar (like http://www.meghantelpner.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/2928585363_281a431efb_o-1000x1024.jpg on the right) and molasses. Can I used either of them, and maybe with white sugar, for substitute?
fiveandspice January 5, 2017
Coconut sugar has a more definite bitterness to it, but I think if you used half coconut sugar and half white sugar, that could work well. Or potentially something like 7/8 white sugar and 1/8 molasses.
foofaraw January 7, 2017
I tried with 1/4 c coconut sugar, 3/4 c white sugar, and 1/2 c water, and the result was great! Thank you for the amazing recipe! There is leftover syrup that we will use for more Irish coffee again soon.
Tim January 5, 2017
75º F is a typo, right?
fiveandspice January 5, 2017
Should be Celsius!
fiveandspice January 5, 2017
I think. I think the F is a typo in the recipe book, and I just autocorrected in my mind, but not in the writeup!
Riddley G. January 5, 2017
Thank you for the clarification! The updated the recipe to reflect the correct temperature is in °C.
Liz D. January 5, 2017
75F degree coffee? That's room temp? Should it be 175F?
fiveandspice January 5, 2017
Actually, they say 75 degrees, but I think it should be Celsius, not F!