Although there are several (probably apocryphal) stories as to the origin of Irish coffee, not to mention at least three venerable bars that claim to have invented the drink, it's hard to take any of that seriously. Adding a glug of spirits to a hot drink seems more like common sense than cookery. And what's not to love about a drink that revs you up with caffeine but mellows you down with whiskey?
That said, the challenge of mixing a real coffee cocktail was irresistible. Coffee's complexity makes it a tough ingredient to blend into a recipe — different beans, grinds or preparations have radically different flavor profiles, all of which will combine with spirits in unpredictable ways. Perhaps because of that, most coffee cocktails, like the Irish coffee or the Spanish coffee (coffee with rum and orange liqueur) are just variations on the utilitarian add-liquor-to-hot-java approach, or else they go the other way and drown out the coffee altogether – as in the Tom & Jerry, basically an eggnog-and-coffee punch.
But my heart was set on it, so: challenge accepted. With only two real components, Irish coffee didn't give me much to remix, so I looked at the preparation instead of the ingredients. There may be a chill in the air right now, but iced coffee is more Florida-appropriate than hot for 11 months out of the year, and that was my inspiration: I simply turned the drink inside out. In my inside-out Irish coffee, the coffee melts gradually into the alcoholic mixture, gently cheering you up with a caffeine boost but without the bitterness of conventional Irish coffee (and no simple syrup required!). Enjoy with eyes wide open.
2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces hot coffee
2 ounces heavy cream
Stir whiskey and sugar into coffee in a tall glass mug. Gently whip cream and layer on top. Serve hot.
fresh-brewed strong coffee
1 ounce Tuaca
2 ounces Irish whiskey (like Bushmills or Jameson)
8 drops Bittermens Xocolatl
1 ounce whole milk
Allow the coffee to come to room temperature, then pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.
Once frozen, place two or three iced-coffee cubes in a cocktail shaker and add Tuaca, whiskey, bitters and milk. Shake medium-hard – you want to give the coffee a head start on diffusing into the other ingredients. Pour into a rocks glass and serve.
Note on ingredients: Tuaca is a brandy-based liqueur with vanilla and citrus notes, sweet enough (though not cloyingly so) that there's no need to add sugar or simple syrup. Bittermens mole bitters are indispensable in this drink – and available at Total Wine; don't skip that step. And organic milk tastes notably better than conventional. Treat yourself!
Variation: For those who like more of an alcoholic smack in the kisser, add 1 ounce of blackstrap rum to the shaker. It's way more in your face, but still tastes great.