The St.-Patrick's-Day-industrial complex has completely bastardized drinking on March 17. People find the closest knockoff Irish pub to guzzle green swill, car bombs and Guinness out of keg cups—sometimes all at once. That's not quite for me. However, I'm also not the Grinch Who Stole St. Paddy's Day, doing everything I can to deprive the holiday revelers. I still like to give a boozy nod to the Irish when their special day rolls around. But I prefer to do so with a proper Irish Coffee. For me, a touch of brown sugar, a bracing slug of Irish whiskey, the best coffee I can find and a delicate float of perfectly thickened cream honor the Saint better than any vomit-inducing, green-dye-filled beer ever could.
Now, I love all the ingredients in an Irish Coffee, but I think the cold layer of cream served on top of the drink is the most important. Always served without a straw, the cream provides a cool pillow to insulate the lips from the hot coffee sitting beneath it. Not that fashioning such a cool pillow of cream is as easy as it looks. In fact, getting the proper consistency—never so airy that it resembles a soft-serve ice cream cone, yet dense enough to prevent it from incorporating with the other ingredients—is a challenge that dates back to when the drink first arrived Stateside.
The cocktail itself originated 70 years ago at the Sheridan Food Pub in southwestern Ireland.
Travel writer Stanton Delaplane brought it to the United States in the early 1950s and worked with Jack Koeppler, who at the time owned the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, to perfect it. They struggled, however, to figure out how to get the cream to stay afloat at the top of the glass. Legend has it that Koeppler sought out the city's mayor, a dairy aficionado, for help. Together, they devised a method of aging and lightly whipping the cream to suspend it above the coffee.
Personally, I've found that aging the cream isn't necessary. And fortunately, there are a number of available tools to help with whipping it properly—from stainless steel whisks and bowls to heavy artillery like the KitchenAid stand mixer.
The main problem with these methods is that they're a minor nuisance to clean at home and a prohibitive task behind the bar. So my staff and I came up with an alternative that's easier, faster and tidier than any method we'd seen before: the Mason Jar Trick.
It's beyond simple. Fill a quart-sized Mason jar half-full with heavy cream and screw the lid on as tight as possible. Give the jar a good shake for 15 seconds or until the contents have increased in volume so that you've gone from a half-full jar to one that's three-quarters full.
Once the rest of the drink is assembled and ready to be garnished, unscrew the lid and carefully pour the perfectly thickened cream over the top. The result is an Irish Coffee worthy of St. Paddy, with no cleanup required the next morning—and that includes green vomit.
2 teaspoons brown sugar syrup
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 ½ oz. Irish whiskey
3 oz. hot coffee
To make the brown sugar syrup, combine one cup tightly packed dark brown sugar with half a cup of water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Combine the whiskey, coffee and two teaspoons of the brown sugar syrup in a pre-heated Irish coffee glass (pictured) or small six-ounce wine glass. Float a generous spoonful of heavy cream on top. Serve without a straw.
Photo by David L. Reamer