To all of my fellow adults of legal drinking age, leave the hot cocoa and marshmallows for the kiddos – this is the cold-weather drink you need.
Boost your spirit with spirits and java by sipping on a mug of warm and boozy Irish coffee!
This simple drink relies on just a small handful of quality ingredients: good strong coffee, Irish whiskey, molasses-forward brown sugar, and chilled cream gently whipped to the perfect consistency.
After mixing the hot coffee with Irish whiskey and a couple teaspoons of light brown sugar directly in your mug, you pour your beautifully aerated dairy on top of the drink, creating a visually stunning cloudlike froth that sits in a separate layer on top.
Meant to be enjoyed as soon as it is made, this crafty cocktail offers an immediate pick-me-up result with sensationally warming effects on the mind, body, and spirit!
The drink’s origin story is most often credited to chef Joe Sheridan in 1943, who served it at an airport near Limerick, Ireland.
Sheridan offered the warming concoction to cold and weary passengers whose Pan Am flight to New York was forced to return to the airport because of inclement weather.
The beverage became a phenomenon in the United States nearly ten years later after American travel writer Stanton Delaplane tried Sheridan’s mixed drink while traveling through Ireland in the early 1950s.
Writing about this drink multiple times for the San Francisco Chronicle, Delaplane’s enthusiasm sparked the interest of Jack Koeppler, owner of the Buena Vista in San Francisco, whose popular bar Delaplane frequented.
Koeppler copied and perfected the recipe, and even under new ownership, as of 2021 the bar served around 2,000 Irish coffees a day, and even more on busy weekends!
For the best advice on making it at home and getting expertly separate and divided layers – in the quintessential style of a classic Irish coffee – I turn to yet another American bartender, this time on the East Coast.
Jillian Vose, head bartender at New York City’s Dead Rabbit – an Irish-American tavern voted World’s Best Bar in 2016 by 50 Best – has plenty of experience making this particular cocktail for her patrons, a tasty version that is still heavily reputed to be the best version NYC has to offer.
And with a 2018 average of 961 Irish coffees sold per week, or 140 per day, Vose knows the best techniques to make the perfect cup of boozy joe.
In a 2022 interview on the podcast “Cocktail College,” Vose stresses that the dairy needs to be cold, and should have a fat content between 35 and 38%, a typical range for a store-bought heavy whipping cream.
And because Vose believes the Irish coffee is “a great way to show the versatility of Irish whiskey and also use it as a vehicle to introduce people to Irish whiskey,” this cocktail should understandably be made with a whiskey produced in Ireland.
Jameson is an obvious and popular choice, but you can also try other Irish whiskey options like Powers or Bushmills.
Once you have collected your mighty ingredients, be sure to scroll down to the Cooking by the Numbers section of this article where you’ll find more tips and tricks to master the necessary techniques and make the best cocktail.
We’ll be saying “Slainte” together soon enough!Print
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 2 drinks 1x
Need a boozy beverage to warm you up on a chilly day off? Make our Irish coffee mixed with whiskey and topped with lightly whipped cream.
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 4 teaspoons lightly packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups strong hot coffee
- 1/4 cup Irish whiskey
- In a small, cold metal bowl, briefly whisk the cream by hand until it just starts to thicken but is still pourable, without developing any peaks. Place in the refrigerator as you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Prepare 1 1/2 cups of fresh hot coffee.
- Place two teaspoons light brown sugar in each heatproof glass or mug. Pour 3/4 cup hot coffee, then 1/8 cup whiskey, into each glass. Stir with a teaspoon until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Hold a clean metal teaspoon upside-down over the top of one mug at a slight angle, with the tip pointing down towards the liquid. Gradually pour half of the lightly whipped cream over the back of the spoon into the glass so that it floats on top, creating a separate layer.
- Pour the remaining whipped cream over the second glass.
- Serve immediately, without stirring.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Coffee
- Method: Coffee Maker
- Cuisine: Beverage
Keywords: Irish, coffee, whiskey, heavy cream, brown sugar
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep
Set out a metal whisk and small metal bowl for whipping the heavy cream.
We recommend whipping the cream by hand, rather than in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. This will give you more control, and will prevent you from overwhipping it.
You can also chill the metal bowl ahead of time in the refrigerator – a cold bowl will help you more quickly whip the cream.
Set out two heatproof glasses or mugs, as well as two metal teaspoons – one for stirring, and one for pouring the whipped topping into the glasses so it floats on top of the hot liquid in the glass.
Prepare your appliance for making coffee, using the appropriate amount of water to brew 1 1/2 cups.
Measure the amount of grounds recommended for your appliance to make a strong brew, or grind the suggested amount of whole beans.
Measure out the heavy whipping cream, sugar, and whiskey. Only gently pack down the sugar when you measure – you don’t want this drink to be too sweet!
While an Irish whiskey is preferred for this recipe, you can use whatever you enjoy drinking or have available.
Step 2 – Whip the Cream
Pour the cream into the chilled bowl and whisk until it’s just slightly thickened. It should still have a pourable consistency, almost like a kefir. You don’t want to form any peaks.
Depending on how vigorously you whisk by hand, this will take 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator as you prepare the drinks.
Step 3 – Make the Coffee and Combine Ingredients
Make the coffee in your appliance.
While that is brewing, divide the sugar between the two glasses or mugs, placing 2 teaspoons in each glass.
Don’t have that much of a sweet tooth? Reduce the sugar by half, and only use 1 teaspoon per serving.
Once the coffee has finished brewing, pour 3/4 cup in each glass, followed by 1/8 cup of whiskey in each glass.
Stir everything together with a teaspoon to completely dissolve the sugar.
Step 4 – Pour the Whipped Cream on Top
Take the whipped cream out of the refrigerator. And take a deep breath – you got this!
Position the other clean metal spoon directly over the top of the hot liquid in one mug, turned upside-down and pointed down towards the liquid at an angle.
In a steady and gradual stream, pour half of the whipped cream directly over the spoon on top of the liquid.
Continue to pour at this steady pace – the topping should easily float and make a totally separate layer from the coffee.
Repeat this process with the remaining whipped topping, pouring it into the second glass.
Step 5 – Serve Immediately – No Stirring!
Serve this beverage as soon as you pour the final drop on top of the second glass.
Resist the urge to stir the whipped topping into the hot liquid underneath it – you are meant to drink this beverage quickly through the foamy head to preserve the look of the layers before the dairy has time to curdle.
Enjoy with a buddy!
Why Is the Cream Sinking?
A common issue with this particular cocktail is that cream fails to float on top as a separate layer.
While this isn’t the worst beverage failure – it will simply be a boozy coffee mixed with cream! – the disappointment is palpable when you were expecting to create something with this iconic look on your very first try.
Good thing you still have some hot coffee, an open bottle of whiskey, and more cream in the fridge – time to try again!
But first, you might need a couple brief reminders and extra tips…
First double check to make sure you actually bought the right type of product!
Remember, we recommend cold heavy whipping cream for use in this recipe, which has the highest percentage of milk fat when compared to whipping or light cream. This higher fat content will help this fluffy topping float.
You also might want to try briefly heating your metal spoon in hot water before using it to pour the heavy cream over, an extra trick some bartenders swear by – though some claim it is a mere superstition – to help the cream distribute more evenly and float on top.
You can run the spoon under hot water, or dip it in a heatproof bowl filled with hot water.
Still a little afraid to take the risk of pouring this delicate topping over the hot liquid in your mugs?
Whip the cream to soft peaks instead and very gently spoon it over the top of each beverage. It won’t have the neatly layered appearance of a classic Irish coffee, but the more aerated version will float!
Do you have a favorite type of whiskey you like to use for this recipe? What do you think of using brown sugar as the sweetener? Any other tips or tricks you want to share to get clean layers? Details, please! Leave a comment below for us to read.
We think a fun weekend brunch is the perfect time to serve all kinds of homemade coffee drinks – the boozier, the better! You and your guests will have fun drinking these next:
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Nina-Kristin Isensee on June 7, 2015. Last updated on February 6, 2023.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.