The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee
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On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy explores the Irish Coffee. While simple in composition, the Irish Coffee is a bonafide cocktail and deserves to be treated like one. Helping us do so today is Jillian Vose, former bar manager and beverage director of the Dead Rabbit, and co-owner of Charleston’s soon-to-open Hazel and Apple.
The Dead Rabbit and Jillian Vose’s Irish Coffee Recipe
– 1 ounce Irish whiskey
– 3 ¼ ounces drip coffee
– ¾ ounce rich Demerara simple syrup (2:1)
– 1 ounce freshly whipped cream
1. Add whiskey, warm coffee, and simple syrup to a warm, 6-ounce coffee glass.
2. Top with whipped cream.
Check Out The Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: It’s the Cocktail College Podcast. It’s a special one today, the Irish Coffee, and we’re joined by none other than Jillian Vose. Jillian, thanks so much for joining us today.
Jillian Vose: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be talking Irish Coffee with you on this beautiful December morning.
T: [laughs] Perhaps in your neck of the woods. It’s raining cats and dogs over here in New York, but there we go.
J: Oh, it’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun is shining, but it is December. It’s a time to really think about those winter warmers, especially to serve your guests and things. Every day is a perfect day for an Irish Coffee, I think, for those that have had a good one.
T: 100 percent, couldn’t agree more. Look, I think in terms of our listeners here, when they saw the name of this cocktail come up in their podcast feed at whatever point, I’m sure a lot of them out there might have been thinking, is Jillian coming on, because, look, you’ve quite literally written the book or been a part of a team that wrote the book on this cocktail. It’s one that’s really associated with a specific time in your career too. Looking forward to hearing all about that. Why don’t we start off with a history of this drink, though?
The History of the Irish Coffee
J: Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of people know the general history of the Irish Coffee for those that are into cocktails. Joe Sheridan created the cocktail at the Foynes airport which is now the Shannon Airport in Limerick. There is a lot more to that story and there’s been so many books that have been written about the Old Fashioned, the Martini, the Manhattan. Because of our passion for Irish whiskey, we thought there’s nobody better than us to get this story out, but we had to really dive back and look to friends like Dave Wondrich and Dale DeGroff and another historian in Ireland, his name was Sean. Please, I will get back to you on what that name is.
We have gone into the history of the Irish Coffee in Ireland and Joe Sheridan’s life as well as Brendan O’Regan and Stan Delaplane, who are three very big names in the history and the promotion of Irish coffee. It’s cool that there is a lot more to their lives and to the story. Then when it comes to America, it’s a whole other thing. Basically we associate the creation of the Irish coffee in the 1940s, so 1942-ish, but it didn’t really become famous in America till the mid 1950s. Coffee and spirits both were staples in Europe in the 1600s, but separately. They weren’t really seen as being served together. It was something that maybe you would drink coffee in the day and then drink spirits at night.
Then, but it was when people were starting to drink punches, it was typically in the coffee shops. That’s maybe where things came together. It really wasn’t until the 1800s that the spirits and coffee came together. The first coffee cocktail was probably the Brulot made by the French, which was basically a cheap grape brandy, a really poorly made brandy with sugary coffee, and then you’d basically light it on fire to get rid of the fumes or the poorly made spirit.
T: That’s in New Orleans that one or coming over from France?
J: Yes. Basically in New Orleans, they basically were doing an iteration of a Brulot called a Café Brulot. This is earlier than that. Then in the 1860s you have the Mazagran, which is basically a long Irish– sorry, not Irish. You have the Mazagran, which was basically a long Collins coffee drink, with an [unintelligible 00:11:29] on the side and milk on the side.
J: Then eventually, it gets put into the actual highball and it could be served hot or cold, and then you get into the late 19th century and you’re starting to see more iterations of calvados instead of cognac and things like that. Yes, then you start to see in the late 1800s you’re seeing punches or other types of drinks. You were saying in New Orleans a Café Brulot. That was more spirit-forward. Let’s see, the soldier’s camping punch was by famous bartender Harry Johnson. Brandy and rum-soaked– a sugar is soaked in rum and brandy and then set on fire with hot coffee– set up, sorry, let me say that again. American bartender, Harry Johnson created a recipe for a soldier’s camping punch and that’s basically sugar soaked rum and brandy, and it’s set on fire and then extinguished with hot coffee.
The list goes on and on with the combination of booze and coffee. You’re not really seeing much traction with– you say, Britain or the United States gaining any momentum with that. It was typically more the European countries that were doing that.
Then the popularization of Irish Coffee was the 1940s and 1950s. Which also gave way for different coffees like the Mexican coffee, the Spanish coffee, more modern takes on it that we see today. Basically, we have Joe Sheridan who was a chef, he was from Ireland and his dad passed away at an early age and his mom brought them into Dublin. They lived close to Donegal. They moved to Dublin to the city and he was at a very young age very drawn to the hospitality industry. Sorry. Through the course of his career, he ended up at The Dolphin, which was a high-end restaurant.
From there he basically when the AD came up to hire people for the Foynes airport, he already had a reputation of being a very adventurous chef with a good name attached to him. He did get the job there. Sorry, one second. [laughs]
T: No worries.
J: Let me see. Joe Sheridan had a great reputation in Ireland for being a chef, and the controller of Foynes Airport which was going to be the entryway for guests coming into Ireland, like the elite and it wasn’t a normal passenger-type airport. You had a lot of people that were wealthy, you had a lot of people that were– this is after World War II when they were trying to rebuild things and to open up to the rest of the world.
J: Importing and export and things like that. Foynes was built more as a placeholder for what is now Shannon because Shannon Airport was being built then across the way. This was the beginning of opening up the west of Ireland to North America and to the south so it does have a lot of to– other than the Irish Coffee, it is significant in the global expansion. It’s a pretty cool story. A well-known restaurateur, if you will. Brendan O’Regan, his family was known. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Old Grounds Hotel in Ennis, County Clare.
J: In fact, he had to stay there. He grew up in hospitality. His family was a part of that, and he went on to make a name for himself that way and became the controller of the airport at Foynes. He hired Joe Sheridan. They had both- Joe came up with the idea, but Brendan challenged him to make it. There’s multiple stories of what the true one is like all stories in drink creation, there’s alcohol involved. Things can get a little muddy there.
T: They sure can.
J: Yes, and I will note that Brendan or Regan was the first person to introduce what is now global duty-free. He was a very significant person in the industry, in the airport travel and hospitality industry, if you will. He did more than just help facilitate the Irish Coffee.
T: Yes. That’s crazy.
J: Yes. He was definitely a perfectionist and as was Joe Sheridan. Brendan you have as the controller of, keep wanting to say hotel, the airport-
T: The airport.
J: -and Joe Sheridan who was hired as a chef, and he wasn’t known necessarily for making cocktails, but he would tinker around with things, and he was adventurous in flavor pairings and things like that. Brendan or Regan’s vision was always to make things look beautiful and perfect and Joe shared the same habits as that. When he whipped up the Irish Coffee, some say that there was a North American flight that was supposed to depart out of Shannon and or out of Foynes. The conditions were not great, so they had to actually turn around and they were told ahead of time to make something that was warm and to help the shaken up guests get back to a good state before having to get back on the plane the next day.
That’s where the story stays, I guess people would say. There’s also some saying that he created it for an actual special occasion that was later on down the road. It could have been that it was on a whim put together, and that’s the initial idea and it was fine-tuned over time. Again, things get a little muddy at that point.
T: It stands to reason though that if you have a chef here that likes to tinker, likes to experiment, he’s grown up in Ireland, Irish whiskey is– I’m still abundant by this point. You would imagine that, yes, maybe it was something he was playing around with perhaps didn’t just come up off the top of his head. Who knows.
J: Yes. At that point, like I was saying in the beginning, coffee in cocktails was already being experimented with, but not in this way. It was something, it is said that Joe was a bit of a drinker himself. I don’t think it affected him getting jobs or anything because he had a very prominent career and there was no history of him getting fired or bad blood between his former employees. I think he was a celebrity chef of his time.
J: He just kept moving up drinks and things like that. Back to him and Brendan or Regan’s love of precision and things look really great. That’s how he found what now is the Irish Coffee glass, but had a handle on it. It’s an elegant stem glass which is basically to say, “Hey, Chef, look at this. We can make this look beautiful as well.” One of the things, too, is that Joe was a heavy drinker, as I was saying, but he would have naturally put a swig of whiskey in his coffee in the morning to get rid of his hangover, and that was definitely being done. It’s not like Irish Coffee was invented, people were already doing that, but it was the addition of the sugar and then, really, the cream was added because of the look of it because, let’s be honest, just a cup of coffee with booze in it is not a pretty thing,
T: Tough sell.
J: Having beautiful whipped cream. Yes, and especially in Ireland, where the quality of cream, especially at that point in time, was just so pure and I always say we’ve maybe perfected the the Irish Coffee, in our opinion, for the bar, Dead Rabbit, but there’s nothing better than when you’re in Ireland and get Irish coffee from cream that was maybe pulled that morning from the cow.
T: Oh, my God. That sounds incredible.
J: You’d actually be surprised how many pubs in Ireland actually do milk the cows in the morning and we’ve been able to enjoy one of those from time to time. Because it wasn’t your normal people going through the airport, you typically had a lot of journalists and things going through and one of them was his name was Stan Delaplane and he had had the drink and he wrote about it in the San Francisco Chronicle like three different times notably, he became a big cheerleader for it as some others did too. Now, at this time in San Francisco, the Buenva Vista was a well-known bar, it wasn’t in any way shape or form an Irish bar, but it was I believe it was owned by a German man, and then later bought, taken over by one of his former employees.
It never was an Irish bar ever, and basically, that was in like 1950, that, basically, you had Delaplane finding out about the coffee and then going back to San Francisco, writing about it, getting it published in the newspaper there and him going to the Buena Vista and introducing that to the bartenders there and they finally were like, “We’re going to try and recreate this,” and they definitely had to tinker around with it, because they couldn’t get the coffee– not the coffee. They couldn’t get the cream to float. They had to tinker around with it and–
T: Which is a problem I’m sure if anyone has tried to make these but maybe doesn’t have considerable experience they will have come across to getting that cream to flow, especially in a hospitality setting when you’re serving it for a guest. It’s a bit of a nerve wracking one, but I’m sure we’ll get into that a little bit later.
J: Yes, for sure, will we talk about how to do that. Being that Delaplane was a regular at the bar, he began to get to know the bartenders and the owner and he’d typically go in and he’d write at the Buena Vista one day and not just bring in his typewriter, he also brought a bottle of Powers Irish Whiskey, and they like basically set out to recreate the Irish Coffee and they just couldn’t get that to float, but I think it was in like 1952 that they kind of made it work and there it took off and, to this day, that’s where we in like 1954 the the San Francisco Chronicle put out an advertisement for the Irish Coffee during the sports and boat show, and they basically said it would be served just like it was at the Shannon airport. He was the marketer, for Delaplane was this marketer like this cheerleader for it, and then it just became over time that’s now what the Buena Vista is known for, but it definitely did not open intending to be that.
T: If we can do a real quick detour here as well. This isn’t the only drink that he either inspires or makes famous worldwide, right? It’s my understanding that he plays a large role in the Dukes Martini of Salvatore Calabrese as well.
J: You know what, that’s quite possibly true. I guess I’m not super versed in that particular situation.
T: I believe the story goes there that just he had gone into the Duke’s hotel while he was on assignment, I’m assuming in London, and he asked the bartender, can I get a Martini very cold and very dry, and he keeps asking and that bartender’s Calabrese, he keeps saying it’s not cold enough, right now it’s cold enough, but it’s not dry enough, it’s over diluted. This gets to the point where we have gin being kept in the freezer and just the rinse of Vermouth in the glass, that famous Martini that people make a pilgrimage for, and I believe the story goes that he had sent a fax back to his office, back to the newspaper, and in it there’s just a throwaway line where he said, he was talking about his time at Duke’s and he said, “By the way, there’s an Italian bartender who makes the best Martini in England.”
That is how that Duke becomes synonymous with that drink and that version of the Martini. It’s kind of crazy. I think the newspaper ended up using that as the headline and focusing on that for whatever reason. I don’t know, the one person can have– obviously, there are many multiple figures involved, but just that one person can have something of an impact on cocktail culture is pretty spectacular.
J: Absolutely. I think that if you have success in doing one thing, then you have the credibility to do something like what you just said, “Oh, well he delivered this great thing and he was right about that so we’re going to believe him about this one.”
T: [laughs] Yes, the guy’s got a good track record.
J: Yes, it won’t take 10 years this time or whatever it was. From the rise of popularity for the Irish Coffee, Joe, himself, became even more a celebrity traveling around. well, it was originally created with Powers or Jameson, because those were like pot still Irish whiskies back then and that would be what the elite would drink, when they were still pot still whiskeys, not the blends that we know today, which are still great, but they were made with a more robust style of Irish whiskey. Tullamore Dew is what they use at the Buena Vista now, but at the time, that wouldn’t have been the original whiskey of choice for that particular cocktail. The elite were drinking John Jameson and John Powers. Obviously, in the ’70s, things changed with all that and blended he became a thing, but that’s a whole other podcast.
T: [laughs] It’s definitely, yes.
J: Yes, but that I think in a nutshell gives you an idea of how I drink like this, just it’s great. It kind of happens overnight, but it kind of doesn’t and there’s not really one exact answer. It could be that all of these things happened. It could be that none of them happened. It could be that one of them happened, but you know that it’s these three people, Brendan O’Regan, Stan Delaplane and Joe Sheridan that really were the three people that helped bring rise to this cocktail.
It was made famous in America, and now it’s everywhere, but it started in Ireland, and now it is– you can find it even at pubs, which aren’t known to do cocktails, but now you can go to a pub, almost any pub and get an Irish Coffee. It might not take as quickly as it would in a place that is equipped to make them on the go, on the fly, but you’ll still get a great drink. Whereas even 15, 20 years ago, you can forget about it, it wasn’t going to happen.
T: I think that’s a wonderful overview of history there that you mentioned. Alcohol and coffee have existed as separate ingredients and maybe weren’t brought together, but, actually, they’ve been mixed together for much longer than just the history of this cocktail and just this preparation. I think that’s a great overview there and then how that drink spreads afterwards.
T: As we mentioned at the top, this is a drink that has very close ties to your own time working at the Dead Rabbit and this is one that you’ve spent a lot of time, I would imagine, working on mixing, serving. Do you want to tell us about that? Maybe now is actually an even better time for us to get into the more practical things here, the best practices.
Best Practices for Making the Dead Rabbit’s Irish Coffee Recipe
J: I’ll get through maybe all that in my own way, if that’s okay.
T: Did you want to mention anything else about the Dead Rabbit? We will edit this out, but just given our conversation before.
J: No, I’ll go in the order that you gave me because there is a significance — it is significant like me coming into the bar and it’s already being.
T: Why don’t I ask you the second question here? What has been your experience with this cocktail over your career? Why don’t I ask that and then that will be a good way for you to-
J: Sorry. You threw me for a loop when we went a different direction. I’m going to tell it from when I started at Dead Rabbit and then go down that way.
T: Fast forwarding just a little bit to your own career here, now. Obviously, we mentioned at the top that this is one that you have significant experience with during your career. Can you tell us about that now?
J: Absolutely. I will say that before I started working at a bar focused on Irish whiskey, The Dead Rabbit, I was not somebody that was a big fan of serving hot drinks in bars because it was, I think a lot of us can say, it’s very annoying and it’s tedious and it’s a lot of work, especially if you’re working in a high-volume bar. You don’t have a coffee machine behind the bar, you don’t have a barista on hand.
There’s so many factors that make it really, really inconvenient to make hot drinks during service. I always when I was working in other places that had some kind of control over the cocktail menus, it was not something I wanted at the bars, having a kettle on the back bar to have people wanting to reheat their drinks because they got cold. Obviously, it’s going to happen, especially in New York City.
It was just a disaster, in my opinion. It wasn’t until I started working at The Dead Rabbit in 2014 that I had never really been there before, I’d been there once in the pub, but I never really sat down and had drinks before I started working there oddly enough. I was actually really, really impressed with the way that they were serving hot drinks and it was that they were using a sous vide.
They held the water back at a particular temperature and then they had the Irish Coffee in that. It was great. We definitely have improved on– they’ve improved on that whole process over time. Some things it was myself, but it was actually Jack, one of the co-founders and owners of Dead Rabbit, now the only managing partner, but it was his idea to use the sous vide.
It’s very smart because if you think about brewing a pot of coffee and just having it on the burner, you’ve probably been to a diner or something and you walk in it just smells like burnt stale coffee. That’s the last thing you want, especially in a drink that only has four ingredients, they all need to be done really well. I think that’s why it’s so easy to make a bad Irish Coffee because if one of the ingredients or the proportions of an ingredient are off then the whole thing is screwed.
To maintain the Irish Coffee at a very hot temperature consistently is a hard thing to do. The water bath is really the only way to do it. You get these plastic containers, obviously they have to be of a certain grade so that they can withstand the heat and they’re safe for consumption and FDA approved and all that good stuff. We basically would do, we’d get the coffee itself, we’d do a drip coffee, none of that French press or anything like that because that tends to produce cloudy coffee.
It’s just not appealing to the eye. We use a more American style drip coffee. That way you can really regulate, when you have pre-weighed out bags of coffee that we would buy already ground, but they would be freshly ground and we would order those every week or every two weeks, whatever we needed. We could also buy beans to sell to people, so that was more fresh for them at home.
You would have it already pre weighed out and it would be a certain amount of ounces of coffee by weight, two milliliters of water would produce X amount of coffee. You would basically brew big batches and it would be a certain ratio, so 10 liters of coffee would be 2 liters. It’d be a five to one ratio of coffee to reach demerara sugar syrup. I would typically do like 10 liters of coffee and then add 2 liters of rich demerara sugar syrup. that’s premade.
You’d basically mix that and stir it really, really well and then bottle that so that it’s evenly distributed sugar throughout the coffee and that it’s already completely dissolved it, integrated. You keep that in the bottle, that’s submerged in the water bath. You then have a certain rotation system, so when you finish one bottle you move one of those bottles up and then replace it with a colder bottle that will eventually get hot.
You have a system that you put in place in your bar. That was not my idea, but I was really blown away by it. Fusco, who’s one of the other co-founders’ wives, Sean Muldoon, and his wife, Anne Fusco, came up with the idea to make the protein shakers to make the cream. Now, this was also a genius to me because one of the issues with making cream behind the bar on the fly is that it takes forever and it’s really slippery and slimy.
When you get cream or something into your ice well or all over your hands it tends to just be a complete disaster. This is a great way to make it very tidy and efficient to keep cream in service and not have to make it for every single quarter. You would basically pre whip everything in these protein shakers with that little spring ball in the middle. Then if you hadn’t used it in a while that you could just re-whip it a little bit until it gets back to the consistency desired, then you could just top up. You don’t need a spoon to pour the cream over, you really just need to make sure that it is whipped to the proper consistency. Those two-
J: Those two innovations and those two systems really opened my eyes to being like, “Wow, now I am like, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?'” It was one of those aha moments, and you’re like, “This is so logical.” It was really great to be able to like, “Wow, we can do this so fast.” Basically, we could pour a pint of Guinness and then pour the same amount of time, I think, like 15 Irish Coffees at the same time it takes to pull one pint of Guinness.
Very, very fast. Then we had the other key for the great Irish Coffee is the size of the glass. Making sure that the size of your glass goes with your specifications of ingredients. For instance, if you’re using an ounce of coffee, a certain amount of sugar, a certain amount of coffee, a certain amount of cream and you have a six-ounce glass and that’s what your recipe is for.
Now, if you then get a seven-ounce glass or an eight-ounce glass, now you’re just top up with coffee, it’s just going to be terrible. It’s important glassware is the right size to fit your recipe. If you have bigger glassware or smaller glassware, then you do the math to figure out how to modify it.
T: Your proportions are staying the same there?
J: Right. You don’t want to look at a recipe and then just top up the glass with coffee and have it be three ounces larger than what the recipe calls for because then it’s just going to taste like coffee. There’s a fine line of using too much booze and too much coffee and too much sugar. The other thing with the Irish Coffee is that if it’s not too sweet, it’s not good, if it’s too sweet, it’s not undrinkable. Then if it’s not hot enough, it’s not good. Then your cream has to be cold. It’s that hot versus cold and it’s that balance of sweet and coffee and that touch of Iris whiskey in the background, that’s that perfect combination.
T: In terms of that serving temperature they’re just real quick. I’m assuming that to say where you would chill down other glassware while you’re making traditional cold cocktails, you’re keeping this one warm, maybe using warm water. What do you think of the serving temperature for this? Is this like, should this be the equivalent of me maybe just getting a coffee from Starbucks? Should it be as hot as that or is it maybe a little cooler than that? Where do you think the ideal mark is for that?
J: I’d actually say hotter because if you think about it because at a high volume bar, you’re going to be making maybe 200 of these a day, maybe more, especially in the winter months. You don’t have time to temper your glass to get it warm like hot. If you’re at home and you have to boil water on the stove and get them heated while you’re preparing other ingredients, great. Because when you’re doing the high volume and you have everything in a hot water bath and you basically want to make it hotter, then you would want it actually to be consumed because by the time you pour it into the glass, it releases a lot of the heat and then you put the cold cream on top and then you get to the guests, by then it’s actually drinkable.
If you were to just drink it out of the bottle, it’d be too hot. I would suggest holding the water bath at 176 degrees Fahrenheit. I think it’s about 86 degrees Celsius, which seems very hot. It’s not boiling point by any means, but it is very hot. That seems to be where it’s like when you hold the drink, it’s lovely and hot and warm on your hands. When you take that first sip, it’s that distinction between that cold cream and the hot coffee coming through that cream that gives that really great sensation. Obviously now, sous vide is becoming more common. I have a sous vide at my house because I’m a geek, but [chuckles] to you, I can do that very easily. If you have a sous vide, great, then you can get all this prepped and put it in the corner of the kitchen and then just have that ready for your after-dinner drinks or the last cocktail you serve at a party or whatever it may be. In the bar you want to get a bigger water bath container and a sous vide that can hold whatever liters of water that’ll fit in that container.
Definitely invest in a good sous vide that can heat eight liters of water or whatever it may be. Really my experience with the cocktail over the course of my career is that I was very blown away by the systems that were already in place and I was very happy over the improvements that were made over the years, that is where they are today, at least to my knowledge. At the time when I started at Dead Rabbit, there were different recipes for each floor. The pub had used a lighter style whiskey like a blended Irish whiskey, whereas the Parlor, which is known for being the cocktail bar used a more robust pot still Irish whiskey. That was really confusing. At the end of the day, we just wanted everything to be uniform and be like, this is The Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee. That’s where we partnered with Bushmills and we created a recipe based on that whiskey.
That’s the way it’s been ever since. It’s delicious and it’s very easy. Everybody in the whole building that works in front of the house can make one. It’s something that the servers are trained to make, the bar backs are trained to make and it’s kind of foolproof. You have the glass that is the same, it’s a six-ounce bespoke glass custom-made for the bar. You pour an ounce of the whiskey, you top it up with a mixture that’s already pre-measured, and then you leave a finger’s worth of space on the top of the glass for about an ounce of whipped cream.
Optional to put some nutmeg on there, obviously freshly dusted, and that’s a wrap. Again, you can make tons of these super-fast. I find that why I brought up the original recipes when I started was that those robust whiskeys just were too much. I believe that a blended Irish whiskey is much more- [crosstalk]
T: Like better suited for the strength?
J: Much more suited for, yes. I believe that a blended whiskey is much better suited for an Irish whiskey because it doesn’t dominate the other components. I think that, obviously, you can use whatever Irish whiskey that you want, just make sure it’s Irish. Using a pot still or a single malt, A, it’s like they’re expensive whiskeys to be put into a drink that you’re probably going to knock back in a few minutes. It’s just necessary like if you’re going to indulge in buying an $80 bottle of whiskey, save that for sipping when you’re–
J: But spend the $30 or $40 on a liter of a blended Irish whiskey and have that for your Irish whiskeys or your high balls and things like that.
T: What about the texture there of something like a pot still, does that and because maybe there are some more affordable examples of pot still on the market, but that full-bodied nature of it, like you mentioned it could possibly overpower. Does texture come into it too? Or is it really more the concentration of flavor and stuff?
J: No, that’s a good question, Tim. Basically, the texture is something that will affect the overall recipe because pot still has a very robust texture to it. Because you’re already using a good amount of sugar and you have the fat from the cream, having that really heavy whiskey just makes it off balance. Again, that’s why a lighter-style whiskey such as a blend. Now the blend could contain pot still Irish whiskey, but you’d want basically a higher grain content blend for your Irish whiskeys and something that has a bit of a sherry influence or whether it be PX or oloroso sherry, which is very common, those dried fruits, nuttiness flavors that come from sherry, the sherry influence into Irish whiskey is great pairing for coffee.
J: Don’t be scared to try things with different mash builds or different blends. You can get creative with it.
T: What’s the sweet spot for you just in terms of generally ABV for that whiskey? Yes.
J: I think sticking in and around 40%, having something that’s like super high proof, which Irish whiskey is not typically known for anyways. I would stick around with 40%, which is typically what your blends are going to be at anyways. When you get into pot stills you’re then hitting things that are on the more like 45, 46%, and I think that’s a little too high for this type of drink.
J: It’s also good that you can put this on a menu and because it has less alcohol and you’re typically using a blend you can actually make this more affordable for guests because they’re going to be drinking it quickly. It’s six ounces, it’s coffee, it’s crushable. You can have three or four of these at a visit to the bar and not be completely wasty face at the end of your time. It’s a very easy-to-drink cocktail that you could have one or two in the middle of the day and not feel drunk. You can have a few at night and not feel intoxicated. It’s just at least most people that drink relatively often. I think the other thing that is important when making this drink is the type of sugar that you’re using and the execution of the cream. I think the biggest, those are the biggest problems that people seem to have, especially making it at home.
You want to use a demerara sugar syrup. It is a coarsely ground turbinado basically style. It’s a darker style of sugar and it has its own flavor complexity to it in that it’s going to be very dark brown in color. You’re going to be making it two parts sugar to one part water and bringing that to a rolling boil. Once it starts to kind of bubble up really fast, you want to take it off the heat and let it cool. Therefore, it doesn’t crystallize. It’s very nice and clear and like glass. Then you can add that to your hot coffee and you can keep it in the fridge, for weeks it will last because it’s a high sugar content. That alone gives a flavor to the drink that if you just use a regular simple syrup, it just simply wouldn’t be as good. Of course, if that’s all you have and that’s your only sweetener, is just regular sugar, simple syrup, white castor sugar or whatever, that’s what you have. If you can get your hands on Demerara Sugar, loose sugar, not the cubes, if you can get the loose sugar, then try and get that, it’s a little more expensive.
If you don’t use it all, you can use it for making old fashions. It will keep in your fridge for like two or three weeks.
T: Nice. Then the cream?
J: Then the cream you want to make sure that the fat content is between 35% and 38% fat content. The fresher the cream the better. If you have a local farm you can buy it from, then do that. Cows milk, other milks don’t tend to work as well. There are coconut creams and things that you can mess around with, but because it needs to be a certain fat content so it actually sits and floats. That’s why Joe Sheridan had so much– or not Joe Sheridan. That’s why they had so much trouble in San Francisco to recreate the Irish Coffee because they didn’t understand that.
They weren’t getting it to float the fat content of the cream. Or maybe they were using the wrong type of cream. It’s important that the fat content is there. Then when you’re whipping it, you can either use it if you’re at home and you’re doing like a handheld, you’re whisking it as hard on the wrist, I’m not going to lie. It will take you a while, but you’ll get there.
You can get basically a metal pitcher or metal bowl and basically place it on top of ice and put the cream in there and whisk it until it basically starts to peak. You want to get it to the point where it’s not quite peaking, exactly, but all the bubbles are gone. It basically should look very smooth and all the bubbles will have dissipated but it won’t be peaking quite yet.
It’s like just before you get to the point where it’s going to be able to stand up and it’s still pourable. It comes with practice that you can feel it in the shaker, that you can feel how heavy it is or the way that it’s moving in the shaker. Basically if you take a look, if you open up the valve, you can look inside and see if there’s still bubbles, if there is then you need to keep going. You don’t want it to start to stiffen so that you have to use a spoon. If that gets to the case, you just have to add more cream, incorporate that in and hopefully it’s brought it back down to a pourable consistency.
T: Go it. You are never going to go too far.
J: If you do, then you’re going to have– it’s not going to be that beautiful clean like Guinness looking thing that you want. It’s going to have dollops of cream on the top and it’s going to start to bleed in because you’re going to basically agitate the cream. It’s going to fall down. You need to get it to that pour. You want it pourable.
You can shake out just tap on the counter there to get all those little bubbles out at the end and pour it over. If you let it sit for a while, you pre whip your cream and you put it back in the fridge until you need it, typically if it’s been sitting there for a while, you’re going to going to have to just roll it a little bit to get it back to be in the consistency that you’re desiring.
It will start to dissipate again. It will start to separate. You want to just lightly toss that to make sure you don’t get just a dollop of unwhipped cream that just flops down into your drink. It happens all the time. That’s the trickiest part is the cream. That does take some time. If you want to do it in a bowl that you can see and just get to understand how it works before you start putting it into that closed vessel, a protein shaker, once you understand what I’m talking about it becomes very easy.
T: That’s a real great hack there that one or a real great tip for especially. Definitely for just in terms of service and things like that, having it already in a container versus a mixing bowl or whatever you’re just not going to want that and in a bar during a busy service.
J: Absolutely. All these little systems add up to make it very easy in a bar setting to do. If you’re doing a dinner party and you want to serve these at a point in your guest experience, then you can’t just prepare the meal and anything else, this would be a part of that. You’d get it ready beforehand and keep it at temp and it’s really easy to just pour the whiskey into your glasses, top up with the sugar and coffee mixture and then top up with your already pre whipped cream. Super easy.
J: Again, just make sure that you taste it ahead of time, that the drink specifications that you’re using fit the particular glass. The recipe that is in the book when whiskey minutes match and the recipe that The Dead Rabbit uses that all is specified for a six-ounce glass. Just make sure if you’re using someone else’s recipe that you’re making sure you modify it to the size of the glass you’re using. Typically a stemmed elegant looking glass with a handle if you can or not, it’s fine.
Part of the joy of the drink is holding it and getting warmed up so it doesn’t have to have a stem, it doesn’t have to have a handle on it on the stem. A lot of glasses do and that’s okay. Either way, just having it stemmed and so that way it’s just a little prettier.
T: Nice. That being clear as well, clear glass, just so you can really– you put all the effort into making this lovely aerated cream that will sit on top of it and you’re using your drip coffee there so it’s not cloudy. You’re putting all this effort into the presentation too that you want to showcase that with it being a glass is what I’m saying there.
J: Absolutely. I think that if you’re like in a setting where you can sit down in a bar, in a home, I think a glass is the way to go because it’s just transferring that heat to your hands a lot easier.
If you’re on the go and you’re going, say, you’re going to watch the parade or going to a sporting event outside or something like that and you want to bring something with you or like in New York when you had the option to go for drinks and stuff, that’s a fun thing. I think if you’re sitting somewhere like that, you can sit and enjoy the drink because visually it’s much more appealing. I think we all can agree that the sense of vision is a part of the appeal of the cocktail.
Having it look as good as it tastes and why do our mouths water when we see a fancy, pink drink or a beautiful garnished tiki cocktail walk by, it’s just like, “Ooh. I want that.” It’s the same trigger when you see an Irish Coffee pass you at a table and you’re like, “Ooh, I want that.” I think that that is visually important.
T: That’s incredible. An incredible overview there of every single aspect of this cocktail from the history, ingredients, and preparation. Just wondering here, before we move into our final part of today’s episode, do you have any final thoughts yourself on the Irish Coffee?
J: I don’t know, I guess now it’s 12:30 here. I guess it’s actually probably time for one. My other thing I’d say about an Irish Coffee, it’s the one drink other than like a Bloody Mary. Maybe that’s how you can feel okay about drinking one in the day. It’s perfectly appropriate. I never thought in a million years that I’d be serving hot drinks 10 years ago in my career and it’s now been a huge part of the drinks that I create and it’s fantastic.
T: Just hearing you talk about this, you’re treating this like a bonafide cocktail, like the bonafide cocktail that it is rather than just a spiked cup of Joe. This is a real dialed in cocktail that you’ve given us here today, so thank you for that.
J: Of course. Sorry, I probably should have said it. I think that the Irish Coffee has been made famous on its own, but I think that using the Irish Coffee as a vehicle to promote Irish whiskey in general has been really amazing to watch.
I think that the Irish Coffee has been a great way to show the versatility of Irish whiskey and also use it as a vehicle to introduce people to Irish whiskey. Because people that don’t like coffee, people that don’t like cream, people that don’t like Irish whiskey, they can actually have one of these drinks and like it, it’s hilarious actually.
“I don’t drink dairy, I don’t drink coffee and I don’t like whiskey.” You give them an Irish coffee and they’re like, “This is fantastic.” I’m like, “I know.”
T: It’s so crazy.
J: It’s really a great ground barrier breaker of a cocktail to Irish whiskey cocktails and it creates a barrier breaker to use to introduce people to Irish coffee, Irish whiskey, coffee drinks in general, so it has a huge influence on the rise of Irish whiskey in general. Thank you, Irish coffee
T: [laughs] Thank you Irish whiskey for persisting too, because it really, really is one of the best categories out there. We’re big fans here at VinePair and it’s come up a little bit on the show before. Always excited to see what’s going on over there.
J: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.
Getting to Know Jillian Vose
T: Well, Jillian, let’s do it. Let’s head into the final section of the show here where we get to know you a little bit more as a drinker and a bartender. I’m going to kick it off with question number one here. What style or category of spirit enjoys the most real estate behind your back bar, typically?
J: Typically? I think whiskey in general has always been my spirit of choice. Even before I got into Irish whiskey, as in depth as I am now, it’s always been whiskey in general. Always had a love of American whiskeys, scotch whiskeys and then Irish whiskeys. Now I don’t have a bar that has a back bar at this moment, but if you look in my home collection, I’d say it’s 70% whiskey.
J: In general.
T: It’s a good one. It’s a cheap one that answer because it’s so many.
J: Absolutely. Whiskey is just as a larger scope of a category is just endless and endless and endless. Second to whiskey, generally, would be brandy, generally, and more specifically calvados and aged fruit brandies. Even unaged fruit brandies. I’m like crazy for them.
T: Nice. You’re in fine company there. A lot of our guests do profess that a love of maybe unaged brandy’s just so good. Definitely worth exploring.
J: Yes, for sure. Absolutely. My love. Yes.
T: Question number two, which ingredient or tool do you believe to be the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
J: Ooh, that’s a tough one because I guess it could be a few things actually. It’s hard to say one thing. Really depends on where you are in your career or what you’re referring to. As far as a home bartender, I think a hand juicer. Because everybody forgets that they need some way to make their fresh juices at home. I don’t know many people other than myself and a couple friends that have a Sunkist citrus juice around their apartment like I do. I am not normal. That for like a home bartender. I think for a growing bartender, like you’re starting out or any bartender, I think your notebook is a huge part of what you’re doing. It’s a way for you to document your growth, your ideas. Anytime you think you’re going to remember something like, oh, I made this great thing during my shift and I’m totally going to remember it. No, you’re not.
J: Write it down. There’s so many times where I’m like, “Oh, this is a great drink, I’ll never forget it.” Then two weeks later somebody asked for the recipe because you didn’t write it down and you’re like, “Ooh, wait, I totally don’t remember.”
T: [laughs] It’s a great tip. Maybe just throw one more in the hat there too, I guess, if your bar does specialize in Irish Coffees then protein shaker. Great one.
J: Protein shaker. Yes, definitely if you’re doing anything with whipped cream, protein shakers. Behind the scenes in your backup house, getting a water bath like sous vide situation, you can make a lot more syrups, at the same time you’ll need a vacuum sealer as well, but being able to put a bunch of syrups together and back seal them and throw them into the sous vide and just have your timer set for whatever, for each one. You can just get a lot more done. It’s just much more efficient than putting everything over direct heat and you’re just getting better, better, better.
J: Those are my four things, I would say
T: We’ll allow it. [laughs]
T: Question number three. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
J: Oh, God. Well, what’s the most important piece of advice? There’s so many because I’ve gone through some rough times, some great times, many challenges. I think staying true to yourself and surrounding yourself with good people when you feel like something is toxic or it doesn’t feel right and you’re probably right about it. It’s easier than you think to get out of that situation. Staying true to yourself in a nutshell and taking care of yourself. I think there has been way too long, especially in at least the generation before me of bartenders that just basically ruin yourselves over overworking and burning the candle at both ends. I think that it’s only a recipe for disaster. Self-care and self-awareness are really big because in the end you’re never going to be able to sustain it and give 100% and your best self if you’re in a bad place personally.
T: Nice advice.
J: That’s my number one.
T: Fantastic. Question number four for you. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
J: Oh, man. That’s so hard. If I could be at one last bar in my life it would be probably my favorite bar on the planet. Basic in Brooklyn. It’s where all my friends hang out. It’s a neighborhood bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My friend Jay Zimmerman and his business partner, Derek, own it. It’s just a place where even if you don’t know what to do with yourself or you want to just see a friendly face, you just go there by yourself and you’ll always run into a friend and you always feel comfortable and welcome. It’s the best. It’s where a lot of bartenders in our industry, no matter where they are in the world, it’s somewhere where everybody goes. It’s brought our industry together and it is a staple for my group of friends to go to. Yes, Basic in Brooklyn, that would be it.
T: Great pick there. Final question for you here today. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
J: Oh, man. I don’t know if it would be a cocktail, to be honest. It’d be like a really, really, really nice glass of a pot still Irish whiskey or a crazy cognac or calvados that’s ridiculously expensive, or some really crazy champagne or something. If it was a cocktail, ooh. I don’t know, for some reason I would probably order a really, really perfect Martini. I don’t know what it is about it. I love going to a hotel bar or going to a really nice dinner and starting it off with a Martini and it really gets the job done.
J: When it’s made the way that I like it. It’s just like that, perfectly cold. I’d maybe even go as far to say instead of just a Martini, it would be a Gibson, maybe an in-house like pickled onion, and a beautifully cold well-balanced Martini and a beautiful glass, a little bit of lemon oil over the top. I’m happy. I’d go out pretty happy that way.
T: That’s exactly what I think too. Simply the best. You can’t beat it.
J: Yes. Absolutely.
T: Well, Jillian, thank you so much. Sorry. Thank you so much for joining us today. This has been wonderful and just so much good advice in there, especially if folks are listening to this when it comes out and they’re may be on the East Coast or in somewhere at least where it gets cold. We have the perfect solution here for them with your Irish Coffee.
J: Absolutely. I cannot wait to make one very soon. It’s been a while.
T: Definitely time for one. All right then. Thank you very much.
J: Thanks for having me, Tim. Thank you everybody for listening. I really appreciate it. Take care.
J: Take care, everybody, and happy holidays.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
The article The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee appeared first on VinePair.