Made with hot coffee, sugar, heavy cream, and Irish whiskey, the classic Irish coffee is the ideal spiked warm beverage.
Wanting to learn how to make “the best possible booze-fueled caffeinated beverage," The Manual surveyed a number of pub owners and professional bartenders for their favorite whiskey to use in Irish coffee, and here are the results.
The Teeling family has been crafting Irish whiskey since 1782 when Walter Teeling set up a craft distillery on Marrowbone Lane in Dublin. The latest generation of the Teeling family, Jack and Stephen, founded the Teeling Whiskey Company in 2012, and in 2015, opened the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years.
According to Mike Di Tota, the beverage director of The Smith in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Chicago: “With its high malt content and the fact that it was matured in former rum casks, this whiskey adds a roundness with a deliciously creamy, spicy, rich flavor profile to an Irish coffee. I pick up notes of salinity and citrus, which heighten the flavor and the aroma of the coffee and play nicely with the whipped cream on top.”
XO Rum Cask Finish is Tullamore D.E.W. Original triple distilled triple blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskey finished in XO rum casks to deliver tropical fruit and warm spice flavors.
General Manager Kimberley Lay of Boulud Sud Miami, says: “[In my Irish coffee,] I use Tullamore D.E.W. XO Caribbean Rum Cask; its sweet, toasty rum flavor [then gets] topped with the best Cuban coffee and a big dollop of what we British call ‘Devonshire cream’, which is just a few churns away from being butter!”
Dave Mulligan, owner of Bar 1661 in Dublin, prefers Mad March Hare Premium Irish Poitín to whiskey in his Irish coffees: “At Bar 1661, our signature drink is The Belfast Coffee. As specialists in poitín, our native white Irish spirit, we wanted to create a variation on the classic Irish coffee, familiar but unexpected, to act as our house drink.
Poitín, with its naturally earthy and terroir-based flavor, is actually a much better fit with coffee than most blended whiskeys. Poitín marries flavor with a new authentic Irish experience.
The Belfast Coffee is a cold-brewed version of the classic; we developed our own bean blend with local roasters to make our cold-brew coffee in-house. We then mix our coffee with sugar and spirit, such as Mad March Hare Poitín, stirred down like a martini with the classic layering of Irish cream and grated nutmeg in a bespoke Irish coffee glass.”
Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, the Irish co-founders of The Dead Rabbit in New York City, use Bushmills Original in their classic Irish coffee.
“Our signature cocktail drink at The Dead Rabbit is our Irish coffee – it took us a long time to get it right, and I genuinely think that the one we’re doing now with Bushmills Original is the best. Bushmills Original has the highest grain content of the blends, which makes the whole Irish coffee lighter. Irish coffee shouldn’t be heavy or overbearing,” says Muldoon.
Martin Cabrera, the owner of South Pointe Tavern in Miami, uses Proper No. Twelve Whiskey, a whiskey brand founded by MMA fighter Conor McGregor.
“For a great Irish coffee, I have really been into Proper No. Twelve Whiskey. Proper No. Twelve makes a special blend for their whiskey that involves a small percentage of malt instead of being 100% grain like [many other Irish whiskies]. This makes a great, smooth whiskey with amazing character. In my opinion, it’s probably the best choice for a great Irish coffee because of the hints of vanilla, toasted wood and honey. And the best part of it is that [McGregor] donates $5 from every case [purchase] to local first responders (firemen, police, etc.), [which is] amazing,” says Cabrera.
Stephan Jurgovan, the bar manager of Band of Bohemia in Chicago, uses Knappogue Castle 12-year Single Malt Whiskey for his Irish coffees. He says: “I highly suggest Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt Whiskey! It’s a single malt Irish whiskey aged in bourbon barrels. It’s quite full-bodied for an Irish whiskey and has lots of fresh apricot tones to it, which make for a very stocky Irish coffee! Some would say it’s too ‘nice’ to mix with coffee, [but] I say go for it!”
Marcos Ladd, the bartender at Cleo South Beach in Miami, says “the best Irish coffee is made with The Sexton Irish Whiskey. This is a true Irish whiskey, and the flavor is fantastic. An Irish coffee requires an authentic flavor that only the Sexton Irish Whiskey brings to the table. The Sexton is a single malt Irish whiskey that is scented boldly with vanilla and honey. It’s distilled in copper pot stills, giving a sweetness that really shows off its unique malty character.”
For a more creative take on the Irish coffee, some cocktail makers venture away from using classic Irish whiskey and experiment with other liquors.
Hilary Chadwick, the director of food and beverage for Viviane at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, “love[s] Baker’s Bourbon for Irish coffees. It’s an incredibly complex, spiced 7-year bourbon that plays very nicely with the bolder notes of our La Colombe coffee. Layer on a bit of hand-whipped cream, and it’s the perfect combination for a chilly night by the pool.”
Nico de Soto, the beverage director of Japanese-inspired cocktail lounge Kaido in Miami, says: “I love using Japanese whiskey [like] Nikka Coffey Grain in the Irish (/Japanese) coffee; it brings a lot of depth. You can also replace the cream [traditionally on top] with a soy/tofu version, which is very appealing.”
John Jeide is the lead bartender of San Francisco’s The Buena Vista, which is credited with being the first American bar to serve Irish coffee.
For the “Skrewed Up Coffee,” the bar’s twist on the classic drink, Jeide uses Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, a California-based infused whiskey.
“I am a big fan of Skrewball because I like the taste of it and I know it really sells, especially mixed in with drinks like a hot chocolate or coffee in the fall. This drink is perfect for someone willing to try something else that they haven’t tried before,” says Jeide.
H/T The Manual
* Originally published in October 2019.