Irish coffee is a cocktail consisting of hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar (some recipes specify that brown sugar should be used), stirred, and topped with thick cream. The coffee is drunk through the cream. The original recipe explicitly uses cream that has not been whipped, although drinks made with whipped cream are often sold as “Irish coffee”.
Although different variations of coffee cocktails pre-date the now-classic Irish coffee by at least 100 years, the original Irish coffee was invented and named by Joe Sheridan, a head chef at Foynes, County Limerick but originally from Castlederg, County Tyrone. Foynes’ port was the precursor to Shannon International Airport in the west of Ireland. The coffee was conceived after a group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat on a miserable winter evening in the 1940s. Sheridan added whiskey to the coffee to warm the passengers. After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was “Irish coffee”.
Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, brought Irish coffee to the United States after drinking it at Shannon Airport, when he worked with the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco to start serving it on November 10, 1952, and worked with the bar owners Jack Koeppler and George Freeberg to recreate the Irish method for floating the cream on top of the coffee, sampling the drink one night until he nearly passed out. The group also sought help from the city’s then mayor, George Christopher, who owned a dairy and suggested that cream aged at least 48 hours would be more apt to float. Delaplane popularized the drink by mentioning it frequently in his travel column, which was widely read throughout America. In later years, after the Buena Vista had served, by its count, more than 30 million of the drinks, Delaplane and the owners grew tired of the drink. A friend commented that the problem with Irish coffee is that it ruins three good drinks: coffee, cream, and whiskey.
Tom Bergin’s Tavern in Los Angeles, also claims to have been the originator and has had a large sign in place reading “House of Irish Coffee” since the early 1950s.
Other sources claim that Joe Jackson perfected the recipe at Jacksons Hotel, Ballybofey, Co. Donegal