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The Perfect Irish Coffee

Some classic drinks have such an outsized reputation that it leads to a slight disappointment the first time you try them (the Singapore Slings come to mind), but Irish coffee is not one of these drinks.  It is enormously satisfying, particularly when paired with the right sweet snack (see below).

An Irish coffee is basically a hot toddy made with coffee instead of water and topped with a float of lightly whipped cream.  The “Irish” comes from Irish whiskey, which has a soft, honeyed character that pairs beautifully with coffee and cream. But I can't connect any Celtic lore to its origins.

The drink was created in the United States in the mid-20th century and became famous at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco – – where they still sell gallons every day.

Preparing Irish coffee is pretty straightforward, but the key to pulling it off is the whipping and floating of the cream. This is a bit of delicate process.  It should be thick enough rest in a layer on top without sinking in, but thin enough to pour smoothly. It’s best to prepare it yourself; I’d avoid using canned whipping cream. You don’t want a conical Starbucks’s Frappuccino-like tower sitting on top of the drink.

Higher proof Irish whiskey is best, though any will do. I recommend using a darker sugar, like demerara or brown sugar, to give the drink some caramel and molasses notes.  You can either make a rich 2:1 simple syrup – meaning 2 parts sugar dissolved into 1 part water – or use raw sugar.

Irish Coffee

2 ounces Irish whiskey
½ ounce demerara or brown sugar syrup, or 1 tablespoon demerara/brown sugar
4-5 ounces hot coffee

In a warmed mug, or an Irish coffee mug if you have one, combine the whiskey, sugar and coffee and briefly stir.  Top with a float of lightly whipped cream (see below). Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon – use a cinnamon stick and microplane – or sprinkle with powdered cinnamon.

Cream Float for 1 cocktail
2-3 ounces heavy cream - the colder the better
¼ -½ ounce simple syrup or ½ -1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional)
2-3 dashes (⅛ teaspoon) vanilla extract (optional)

Combine in a shaker, and shake briskly, with no ice, for 8-10 seconds.  You can do this ahead of time and chill it in the refrigerator.  Colder cream sets better, and doesn’t bleed into the drink easily.  Gently the pour cream over a spoon until it covers the entire surface of the drink.

You can also prepare the cream in a mixing bowl or something similar, particularly if you’re multiplying the recipe to serve a group.  But for smaller rounds a shaker really works great, both for whipping and pouring. 

CheeseSticks Pairing – As I hinted in the first paragraph, if there was ever a time for John Wm. Macy’s SweetSticks, this is definitely it.  Personally, I like Dutch Chocolate.  But there are no wrong choices.


About the Author

Tom Macy is a part owner of two cocktail bars in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn: the Clover Club – where he is also the head bartender and curates the menus – and Leyenda, which is right across the street.  He is also the son of John Wm. Macy, CheeseSticks founder and CEO. John Wm. Macy's CheeseSticks was Tom's playground as he grew up and he inherited his dad's passion for food and entertaining. Tom also consults on cocktail programs for bars, restaurants and hotels.

Tom is on a personal mission to help us all make and drink better cocktails. His recently launched website,, is full of in-depth advice on cocktail recipes, techniques, tools and a whole lot more.  He also teaches cocktail classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen and has dozens of cocktail videos on YouTube.  He looks forward to connecting with CheeseSticks fans and offering his advice on how to construct the perfect cocktail to go with "the perfect crunch!" Tom lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ellen and their two daughters, Willow and Violet. For more cocktail tips, articles and videos, visit Tom's website at