In 1943, Irish flying-boat-base chef Joe Sheridan greeted stranded passengers with warm mugs of a drink of his own invention—Irish coffee. When asked for the recipe, he provided it in—yes—limerick form: Cream rich as an Irish brogue / Coffee strong as a friendly hand / Sugar sweet as the tongue of a rogue / Whiskey smooth as the wit of the land. So let’s do a line-by-line analysis, shall we?
Cream rich as an Irish brogue: Soft, billowy peaks are what you’re going for here. A softer whip better incorporates with the cocktail, giving you a head-on-a-stout feel, not whipped-cream-on-your-nose feel.
Coffee strong as a friendly hand: Boldly brew your favorite darker-roast beans, using whichever method you prefer. I tested with a strong pour-over (30 grams of ground coffee to ½ cup hot water) and a long espresso (an espresso brewed with extra water) and both made equally punchy cocktails.
Sugar sweet as the tongue of a rogue: Though I was convinced maple syrup’s smoky, caramelly flavors would pair perfectly with coffee and whiskey, the syrup thinned the cocktail too much. Dark brown sugar provided toasty sweetness and better body.
Whiskey smooth as the wit of the land: Irish whiskey is made of barley and distilled three times. (For some context, bourbon is mostly made of corn and distilled two times. And Scotch is mostly made of malted barley and distilled two times.) All of which to say, Irish whiskey does make a difference here—it’s smoother (you know how smooth), less sweet than bourbon, and doesn’t have Scotch’s smokiness. —Coral Lee
heavy whipping cream
muscovado or dark brown sugar, divided
Fill two mugs with very hot water from the tap. Let sit while you prepare the cream.
In a small bowl, whisk the cream with 1 teaspoon sugar to very, very soft peaks. Empty the warm mugs. To each, add ½ teaspoon sugar, ¼ cup coffee, and 2 tablespoons whiskey. Stir to combine, gently ladle half of the whipped cream over each, and serve.
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga.
When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.