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Whiskey Cocktails’ Unsung Hero – Here Is Where To Get The Best Irish Coffee in Dublin by Derek King

Derek King gives us some history of the much-loved drink, plus where to get the best Irish coffee in Dublin

Since its creation in the 1940s, the Irish coffee has been a staple in bars across the world. Frustratingly pushed into the winter occasion where it becomes known as a “winter warmer”, I really feel it has a place on every drink and food menu all year round as the most perfect hot cocktail. Good whiskey, hot coffee, double cream, Demerara sugar with a dusting of aromatic nutmeg… what’s not to love? What is equally as annoying is that it can be pretty hard to find a good one amongst the hundreds you can order in and around Dublin City. 

This time of year, you will see the big guns fighting tooth and nail to get their liquid as the base for the drink – Powers, Paddy, Tullamore Dew, Teeling and Bushmills are amongst the most popular. An indicator of what’s in yours will be that great big 4.5 litre bottle mounted on the back bar! The hot serves are a vital play for these brands and the chilly months are their time to shine – hot whiskey and Irish coffee equals volume.

Although the drink’s origin is heavily contested, I spent some time digging around…. the creation of the drink takes us west, to Foynes in Co. Limerick. The old Foynes airbase, now operating as a museum, is where general manager Margaret O’Shaughnessy rubbishes any claims of the drink’s birth being anywhere else but right there in the heart of Foynes.

Undoubtedly, the Irish Coffee has travelled the globe and evolved through each set of bartender hands it passes through, but we will focus on the traditional recipe for now. After taking a trip to visit Foynes museum about 4 years ago, I came away very confident that Joe Sheridan, former head chef in the Foynes air base terminal, was in fact the creator, after a very intense history lesson by Margaret herself.

In 1943, a restaurant and café opened its doors in the Foynes terminal building. A Northern Irish chef by the name of Joe Sheridan is recruited to run the kitchen. In the winter of 1943, a flight destined for the big apple is forced to turn around after heading into severe weather conditions. A few morse messages later, staff are called back in to Foynes to look after the dishevelled passengers. Joe Sheridan saw his opportunity to roll out his new creation… right place, right time! The concoction was given to each passenger and it went down a treat!

Sheridan grew the drink’s popularity at Shannon airport (where he went to work after Foynes’ closure in 1946) where he made it his signature serve. The drink found itself on the right set of lips in the form of a travel writer who took it to San Francisco. Stanton Delaplane was enamoured by the tipple and spoke to bar owner friend Jack Koeppler about getting this on his menu in his venue – The Buena Vista Café San Francisco. It proved a little more difficult than that and instead of failing over and over again, Jack offered the American dream to Joe Sheridan. He accepted, packed his bags and headed to the land of opportunity. He famed the Irish coffee at the Buena Vista where today they are mass produced at pace at this iconic bar.

The current whiskey tide is absolutely raising all boats and it seems that the Irish Coffee is seeing a new re-appreciation across bars, restaurants, and social media alike. For someone who adores the cocktail this is a welcome revisit. After reading this, I hope you are inspired to grab one of these beauties from one of the places I’ve suggested below; a handful of my favourite spots to enjoy an Irish coffee in Dublin as the temperature starts to trickle downward. 

The whiskey used will need to weigh in on the conversation also – what whiskey, or even brands, have championed the serve and cemented its place as the base? Single grain for its sweet nature, a good blended whiskey or even a complex single pot still (recently we saw Redbreast 12 being the booze of choice for “The Birdhouse” Irish Coffee serve.) Personally, I think you can tie yourself up in the finer details of the whiskey in the mix. The balance of the sweetener, coffee and the cushion of luxurious double cream balances most of the types I’ve mentioned above. The only time I have ever thought I may have chosen the wrong whiskey was when the ABV was getting over the 45% mark, the coffee suddenly became very alcohol forward.

I will include my recipe at the bottom of the article but here’s a Dublin shortlist for where to get your hit through the festive season and chilly months that are imminently en route! 

The Best Irish Coffee in Dublin

Vice Coffee

I was lucky enough to taste this beauty at the Me Aul Flower festival recently, where it was paired with nothing less than a Tunnocks Tea Cake – Genius! I popped in last week to try this hyped up serve. I have seen plenty of evidence online and in various articles about it’s popularity but I had never sat to enjoy it and actually give it any thought. Vice is a really cool spot, and instantly you know that this will not be a run of the mill Irish coffee – quite the opposite! There are 3 options on a display board above the coffee machines. The plain Jane, Fancy Frankie and Luxurious Linda.

I went for Frankie; the award-winning flash beside its name called me in. This was an absolutely amazing Irish Coffee – perfect from the off. A 6oz Georgian glass, always my preference. The whiskey of choice is Teeling Small Batch which lends itself really well here – citrusy and vibrant booze seems to hold hands with the spiced orange cream float on the coffee. Warm, balanced, whiskey driven and a dessert-y nature to the whole experience – Top drawer from the Vice guys. This is worth a trip when in town over the festive period.

The Bankers Bar

The Bankers will be within arms reach no matter what part of the city you’re getting some Christmas shopping done. It also provides that perfect cosy backdrop for getting the warm glass of Irish coffee in hand! Whiskey is an integral part of what Alan and Team do in The Bankers so you know careful attention will be paid to the serve. (Have a look at the collection dotted along the walls – very impressive.)

The first Paddy Irish Coffee I have had in a while and it’s nice to see some variety! A lovely sweetness, plenty of cold cream and perfectly hot – an old school Irish Coffee glass to give the serve a very rustic feel. The Bankers normally celebrate the Irish coffee with some very unique activations and promotions coming up to Christmas, so keep an eye out!

Teeling Whiskey Distillery

The Bang Bang bar is probably one of the best kept secrets in Dublin for enjoying a couple of Irish coffees or cocktails alike – the association of distilleries being tour-only offerings is most likely to blame. The Bang Bang bar is located on the first floor, and a team of exceptional bartenders are on hand to get you your fix! I took up residence in a booth overlooking Newmarket Square and the grey day outside called for the hot concoction I had come for – The Dublin Coffee. Flawless from start to finish. The very unique ingredient was the sweetener – The guys at Teeling use a spiced stout syrup to sweeten the coffee. This seems to add a completely different layer to the drink and adds a really nice treacle toffee flavour. A very cool space to enjoy a couple of drinks after a tour of the distillery.

Balfes at The Westbury

It just seems right to gravitate toward this part of the city for a pre-Christmas madness drink. A few very festive haunts in this vicinity including McDaids, Davey Byrnes, Kehoes, and of course, Balfes. Here I was working off the popularity of the Irish Coffee served upstairs in Wilde restaurant where Method and Madness is the base for a flambéed version! I wanted to keep this shortlist to “stroll off the street” options so figured Balfes couldn’t be too far behind. I wasn’t wrong… this was an absolutely amazing Irish Coffee.

There’s always such a lovely buzz around Balfes and even more so this week as the decorations were being hung all around The Westbury. Again, that gorgeous Georgian glass makes an appearance and unusually, Jameson is the whiskey of choice (generally if it is to be from the IDL portfolio, Powers gets called in as the winter time work horse.) It was a perfect serve all the same and the one remarkable thing was the perfect temperature. It stayed nice and hot until the last sugary sip. Treat yourself to this one!

The Bank Bar

I have mentioned the Bank previously here and it simply can’t not be on this list! The Bank is amongst the best bar food experiences in the city and for me, Irish coffee is celebrated really well here with its very own section on the menu. I regularly slot the Irish Coffee into the food occasion as an after dinner drink, and with both being so good here it seems like the right thing to do! 

Presentation is on point with that beautiful 6oz glass and Teeling Small Batch again – there is a pattern emerging here! By taste, this is a traditional recipe.., demarara sugar, double espresso topped up, off-liquid double cream, sweet blended whiskey and a nutmeg garnish. This is a great example of not re-inventing the wheel and each component can be tasted and appreciated individually and in harmony – beautiful Irish Coffee, beautiful place!

Where to get your fix outside Dublin:

 I want to give a shout out to Margaret and Team in O’Lochlainns Bar, Ballyvaghan, Co. Clare. They serve the most amazing Irish Coffee, where the cream literally couldn’t be fresher – They’ve cut out the middle (milk) man and source the cream from their dairy herd behind the bar. Unreal! Other honourable mentions include:

  1. MP Walsh, Galway
  2. Shelbourne Bar, Cork
  3. Dylan Bar, Kilkenny
  4. Garrick Bar, Belfast
  5. Slane Distillery, Meath.

Plus, a recipe to make at home

  • 30ml Whiskey of choice (As discussed above whatever works for you – I like using Powers Gold Label)
  • 1 Teaspoon of a good powdered instant coffee
  • 1 Teaspoon Demerara Sugar or 15ml Syrup
  • Double cream float whipped to just off-liquid (Thumb nail depth layer)
  • Nutmeg dusting for garnish

Tip: Try your best to source a 6oz Georgian Glass 

Article by Derek King
The Whiskey Journey

Derek has worked in the traditional Irish bar scene for many years and holds a huge passion for Irish pub culture. His time has been served as a bartender, bar manager and proprietor of pubs and music venues. He has spent time working in many different countries including Australia and Canada broadening his understanding of how alcohol and bar culture differs from country to country.

Derek has gained broad whiskey knowledge through in-depth whiskey training events, whiskey tastings, masterclasses and multiple Midleton Academies. The majority of this exposure was gained during his role as Global Brand Ambassador for Powers Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard

The love for whiskey and distilling became his career focus when he was part of the start up team at Slane Distillery (owned by Brown Forman/Jack Daniels). Derek was part of the commercial and operational management of the day to day running of the visitor centre, which was located on the grounds of the iconic Slane Castle. POWERS whiskey called next… Derek took the brand by the reigns travelling as their global spokesperson telling the most historic and rich brand histories of all the whiskey stories out there. Now through the establishment of Experience Irish Whiskey, Derek is ready to spread the good word of Irish whiskey with specialised whiskey tasting experiences throughout the four corners of Ireland.

https://www.experienceirishwhiskey.ie/

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