Friday, January 25, 2008

Irish Coffee Day

Cream---rich as an Irish Brogue
Coffee---strong as a friendly hand
Sugar---sweet as the tongue of a rogue
Whiskey---smooth as the wit of the land

Once again, I'm in a tizzy. Link after link, proclamations are made, Today Is Irish Coffee Day! Now, I'm not one to avoid celebrating coffee, especially Irish Coffee but why? Why is today Irish Coffee Day? Inquisitive minds want to know. According to the Buena Vista website in San Francisco, the challenge was embarked upon on November 10, 1952. And I quote, "Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create a highly touted "Irish Coffee" served at Shannon Airport in Ireland."

Is it possible, Irish Coffee had its historic beginnings in January. Maybe it was on January 25, 1943. Let's visit the Shannon Airport website to see what they have to whet our whistle. And I quote again: The bar is named after Joe Sheridan, a former chef at Shannon Airport. Joe invented the world famous Irish Coffee in 1943.

Now, the tizziness begins again. The Foynes Airport Museum reveals the legend as quoted at The Scotch Blog.

Legend has it that one night in 1942, a plane bound for the U.S. was turned back to Foynes due to bad weather. According to historians at the Flying Boat Mueum, this was not an unusual occurrence. But on this night, as Chef Joe Sheridan was serving coffee, he thought a little something extra was needed to warm the tired travelers. He sweetened the hot coffee with sugar, added a dram of Irish whiskey and floated a dollop of rich, delicious, lightly-whipped cream on top. Irish Coffee was born.

Flying Boats

Flying Boat Mueum! Why would someone travel to the Flying Boat Museum to explore Irish Coffee? Humbly she states; What the heck is a Flying Boat! Off to wiki I go.

A flying boat is a type of aircraft which uses its fuselage as a floating hull, generally stabilised on the water surface by underwing floats or stub projections. It is a specialised form of seaplane, an aircraft that is designed to take off and land on water utilising a carriage and pontoons that maintain the fuselage above water level. wiki

Foynes, Ireland was the terminal for many early transatlantic flights. Where land-based aircraft lacked the range to travel great distances and required airfields to land, flying boats could stop at small island, river, lake or coastal stations to refuel and resupply. Foynes is noteworthy for having been, in the early years of aviation, the last port of call on the eastern shore of the Atlantic for flying boats. Surveying flights for flying boat operations were made by Charles Lindbergh in 1933 and a terminal was begun in 1935. It was at the dawn of transatlantic plane travel, when a trip from America across the Atlantic was only possible on an 18-hour flight. On landing, passengers were ferried from these early seaplanes, arriving chilled and damp at Foynes Airport. In 1942, Brendan O'Regan opened a restaurant and coffee shop in the Foynes terminal building and employed a Chef named Joe Sheridan. The restaurant had been established at the airport to welcome travelers, which by then included such VIP’s as Humphrey Bogart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward G. Robinson, Ernest Hemmingway and Douglas Fairbanks. The drink was invented to welcome-and to warm up the first transatlantic travelers.

Brendan O’Regan had already imbued his staff with pride in their work and the sense that “we are Irish, we are different”, thus creating a culture centred around maintaining high standards of service. He sought ideas from his staff believing that everyone has the capacity to be creative. It was no accident therefore that Chef Joe Sheridan created Irish coffee in this environment, and no surprise that O’Regan had the staff welcome passengers with the beverage upon their arrival.
"Man alive, that stuff would make your toes open and shut."

Full Circle

There's a wonderful article by Bridget Haggerty at A Taste Of Ireland about the History of Irish Coffee. There is also the original recipe. It's a beautifully designed site which is very easy to navigate. But, before you leave, I would like to offer you this article from the May 1957 issue of The Epicurean Monthly. It is the menu for that which was served at the Waldorf Hotel on March 18, 1957. The host, Mr. Scott-Hayward printed and "circulated among the guests, notes on the menu and on the dishes served." Here is his note on Gaelic Coffee. 

Gaelic Coffee

"Sip the coffee through the cream and enjoy to the full this delectable brew. It was invented at Shannon Airport, one bitter winter night, to speed a dispirited American traveller on his journey across the Atlantic. The ingredients are:

Cream---rich as an Irish Brogue
Coffee---strong as a friendly hand
Sugar---sweet as the tongue of a rogue
Whiskey---smooth as the wit of the land

He continued with..."Man alive, that stuff would make your toes open and shut." If that quotation frightens you off, then ask for a black coffee and Irish Mist.

In October 1945, as the era of the Flying Boat came to an end, Foynes Airbase closed in order to make way for landplanes. A new airport was opened on the other side of the Shannon Estuary which is now known as Shannon International Airport. Joe Sheridan took his perfected recipe to the new airport restaurant where more and more travelers sampled its delights – among them, international travel writer Stanton Delaplane from San Francisco. Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista Café, made it his mission to introduce Americans to Irish Coffee. In 1952, Joe Sheridan accepted a position at the Buena Vista Cafe' in San Francisco and began serving the first Irish Coffees in America.
According to Buena Vista manager Michael Carden, it’s vital to use the traditional method. "You have to use actual heavy cream that is whipped to the perfect consistency and poured over a spoon in just the right way to get it to float on top (which takes a bit of practice). That way, you get the coolness of the cream and the hot of the coffee. That’s real Irish Coffee."

I'd call that, top-flight service:) Long Island’s Irish Coffee Pub makes Irish Coffee in the time-honored way, but substitutes brown sugar for the sugar cubes. It's simply delightful! (and the food is delicious:)

Slainte! (That’s "cheers" in Gaelic:)

1. Joe Sheridan’s Original Irish Coffee
2. Shannon Airport
3. Flying Boat Museum
4. John Mariani discusses Irish Whiskey
5. Irish Coffee Foam


  1. Hi Louise, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. But you can't leave me hanging like that - how did you happen by?

    I loved reading your Irish coffee research. We moved to Tullamore last year where the legendary home of Tullamore Dew whiskey is. We actually went to their heritage centre (http://www.tullamore-dew.org/) and they had a display about Irish coffee, which had a completely different story. I was hoping there'd be something on their website, because I'm a bit fuzzy on details. In terms of timing I want to say San Francisco in the early twenties??? Supposedly it was a marketing ploy for Tullamore Dew, which isn't nearly as romantic as your story! ;-)

    It's very hard to get a real Irish coffee in the states though, and I'm not sure why as it's so easy! And with the superior coffee served in the US I can only imagine it would be much better. They still use instant here! ;-) Doesn't bother me, as I drink tea, but my coffee loving Yankee husband goes crazy! ;-)

    The way my Dad always makes them is to use an Irish coffee glass, put a heaping spoon of brown sugar in the bottom. Leave the spoon in the glass, add coffee and a shot of Irish whiskey (he likes Jameson, but we won't tell the locals here!) and then top it up with heavy cream, poured, not whipped. Then apparently you sip through the cream. Being neither a fan of whiskey nor coffee I can just relay what has been drummed into my head.

    Doing a waitress stint in Bennigans during my college years in Michigan, I can tell you the bar tender was less than impressed with my Baileys and whipped cream denied recipe!

    But I digress... thanks again for stopping by! Look forward to reading more!

  2. Ah! So that's the story! With a trip to the west coast ahead of me this week, I hope the culinary gods are as kind to me as Joe Sheridan was to that group of weary travelers. The "poetry" that accompanies the ingredients is fascinating. I have only been to the Irish Coffee Bar once, but you've just given me a reason to return!


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise