A few stories—some foggier than a San Francisco morning—describe the origins of Irish coffee. The widely accepted version is that Joe Sheridan, head chef at the Foynes port (now the Shannon International Airport) in County Limerick, Ireland, created the warming drink in the late 1940s to welcome the freezing passengers arriving on Pan Am seaplanes. A travel writer serendipitously named Stanton Delaplane brought the drink to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café, where it became a wildly popular tourist and local staple. More than 30 million Irish coffees, as many as 2,000 per day, are said to have been served at the Buena Vista since 1952.
Those who think merely spiking their coffee with whiskey and smothering it with the a can of whipped cream will cut it are itching for a fight and sadly missing out. The idea, says veteran McMullan’s barman Dallas Perry, is to warm the glass in advance, and then add the sugar and coffee to the whiskey—Irish only, please. The gently whipped cream should float on top like a cloud. It is through this that you will drink the hot, sweet, spiked coffee, thus cooling it to the ideal temperature.
Perry—also a staple at McMullan’s since the beloved Irish pub opened nearly 10 years ago—consulted with the Buena Vista crew and even visited pubs in Shannon to arrive at the official McMullan’s Irish coffee recipe (more than 24,690 served!), made with Jameson Irish whiskey, Douwe Egberts Colombian coffee and topped with a cocoa-flavored cream, giving it the appearance of a perfectly poured pint of Guinness. Have both when the bar turns the big 1-O in November and celebrates with six nights of live music, contests, a Guinness-pouring competition, the Trivia Night state championship and the roast of pub owner Brian McMullan. Nov. 6-11, McMullansIrishPub.com.
As served at McMullan’s Irish Pub, $7.50
Warm a stemmed red wine glass or footed coffee glass with hot water. Add 1½ ounces Jameson Irish whiskey to the glass. Stir in 1 heaping teaspoon of brown sugar. Add 6 ounces of hot coffee and allow it to settle completely. Spoon 2 ounces cocoa-infused double cream over the top and use a stencil to garnish with the hot-chocolate powder design of your choice. At McMullan’s, your coffee comes with the luck of the Irish.