Warming Irish Coffee for Frosty Winter Days
Irish coffee: the best of both worlds, coffee and liquor! Wikimedia Commons/Jules Stone Soup
The history of the caffeinated cocktail plus a recipe.
Now that winter’s cold has firmly enveloped us, I find myself craving Irish Coffee to keep warm and mellow. Though adding booze to warm beverages is hardly a novel or technically difficult development in the annals of cocktail recipes, Irish Coffee is a modern invention designed for Americans.
In 1943, Brendan O'Regan was appointed Catering Comptroller at the Foynes flying boat terminal on the south side of the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick. At this time Foynes, Ireland, was one of the primary terminals for early transatlantic flights—even if just for refuel and resupply.
Being a shrewd and most astute entrepreneur, O’Regan recognized the commercial potential of the image of Ireland to foreign visitors, especially Americans, so he redecorated the terminal restaurant to create a strong Irish character and he hired well-educated, well-polished people to populate his restaurant. O’Regan recruited Chef Joe Sheridan, originally from Castlederg, County Tyrone, and the restaurant soon developed a fine reputation throughout Ireland.
As the story goes, due to inclement weather one night in the winter of 1943, a Pan Am flight was forced to return to Foynes. Terminal staff was asked to return to work. Once the flight landed, the passengers were brought to the terminal restaurant for refreshment and to keep warm.
Asked to prepare something to warm these mostly American passengers, Sheridan added some fortifying Irish whiskey to their coffees. Approaching the chef, one of the passengers asked if his wonderful coffee was Brazilian. "No,” Sheridan is purported to have replied, “That’s good Irish coffee!"
A couple of weeks later, Sheridan perfected his recipe and presentation for his “Irish Coffee.” He brought his new drink to O’Regan, now served in a stemmed glass, asking: “How about that for eye appeal?” O’Regan declared: "Genius Chef!" and so the Irish Coffee was born.
From then on, Irish Coffee was on the menu at Foynes, and was offered to all passengers. Once Ireland’s first transatlantic airport across the river in Rineanna (now Shannon Airport) was finally and made fully operational in 1945, O’Regan was made catering comptroller at the new airport. He added Irish Coffee to the menu and to the “welcome” routine there too.
Jump forward to 1988, and the National Standards Authority of Ireland published an official guideline for Irish Coffee. Stereotypes aside, the Irish do in fact know how to protect and project their booze-related image.
Irish coffee is a fairly simple and straightforward concoction; here is Sheridan’s original recipe: