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Legend has it that a “San Francisco Chronicle” columnist named Stanton Delaplane first discovered the Irish Coffee at Ireland's Shannon Airport in the 1940s. He brought back the trans-Atlantic recipe to Jack Koeppler, the owner of San Francisco's Buena Vista, who perfected the art of floating the cream atop the drink as we know it today.
Now a bona fide American classic, Irish Coffee is admittedly a huge pain to make. While the hot ingredients are easily combined, the cream must be lightly whipped to just the right consistency in order to separate from the coffee. The simple formula of the drink—and the challenge of mixing it correctly—has lured many of the country’s top bartenders to try creating their own version. So we’ve located the best Irish Coffees, both traditional and avant garde, to try in bars in America.
At Irish pub mainstay The Kerryman, bartender Brendan Burke stirs together Slane Irish whiskey, a cinnamon-clove demerara syrup and cold-brew coffee for a fairweather spin on the drink. The foam is hand-whipped with orange zest for a citrusy twist.
Star-tender Alex Negranza has always been fascinated with coffee. He got his start in the hospitality industry as a barista in caffeine-loving Seattle. At Better Luck Tomorrow, Negranza whips up a fancy version that fuses Redbreast Irish whiskey with peated scotch and an allspice cream.
Irish Coffee pioneer Dale DeGroff created this version of the drink for the world-renowned Dead Rabbit, fusing Clontarf Irish whiskey with Brazilian coffee, demerara syrup, hand-whipped cream and grated nutmeg.
Jameson loyalists, rejoice. At Big Bar, the crowd-pleasing Irish Coffee comes in the traditional style with Jameson, fresh-brewed coffee and brown cane sugar. The foam, of course, is hand-whipped to fluffy perfection.
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Irish Coffee without Irish whiskey? Bartender Tyson Buhler swaps it out for a base of Leopold Bros. Maryland-style rye, which is layered with Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur and Bénédictine. The coffee here is from Denver’s homegrown Middle State roastery, and the cream is a toasted oat variety made in-house.
Russell Davis’ university-themed cocktail spot offers a characteristically brainy take on the drink, adding oxidized espresso and Fernet-Branca to the traditional combination of Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey and Kerrygold Irish cream liqueur. Espresso beans and a fresh mint sprig top off the cocktail.
This is where the American obsession with Irish Coffee began. To this day, Buena Vista makes its Irish Coffee using the same time-honored recipe that Delaplane and Koeppler created. The immensely popular drink is prepared in large batches with sugar cubes, hot drip coffee, Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey and whipped heavy cream.