We’ve all had an Irish Coffee we’ve hated, but when made well, it’s a beautiful thing.
Years ago, I had the fortune to be in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. I spent the day as any lit major with an Irish Catholic heritage and an interest in history would: visiting the worlds of Yeats, Wilde and Joyce, and exploring sites related to the complexities of the Republican cause and the “still indomitable Irishry” Yeats wrote of.
I trust readers will understand that by “visiting the worlds of writers and exploring sites of the Republican cause,” I mean I mostly spent it pub-crawling.
I wasn’t a beer drinker at the time, so over the course of the day — during which one of our party attempted a clumsy attack on an inflatable dragon in the parade, leaving the dragon none the worse for wear but likely contributing to the boorish reputation of American students abroad — I sucked down around seven Irish coffees. Late in the evening, after hours of jigging and reeling to a local band at the last of a string of pubs, I confessed to my beer-sozzled friends that in this day-long application of whiskey, sugar, coffee and cream, the caffeine had proved victorious: I was stone-cold sober and possibly permanently awake.
The combination of hyper-caffeination and my own social awkwardness meant that, while others in my party were dancing and flirting with a charming global lineup of giddy young people, I was sober enough to focus on what I was drinking, noting differences between one pub’s Irish coffee and the next. The majority were pretty godawful, suffering primarily from the realities of the bar coffee, which had likely sat on a burner for hours, developing unlovely scorched notes that weren’t drowned out by sugar or booze.
My recollection was largely confirmed by Sean Muldoon, managing partner at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York, an Irish bar that repeatedly turns up on lists of the best bars in the world. “The Irish coffees served in Ireland are typically not good,” Muldoon told me via email. “I’ve tried hundreds and haven’t had a good one yet.” This, he says, is because Irish bars don’t really take the drink seriously.