March 21st, 2017 | By Tony Abou Ganim
“Cream as rich as an Irish brogue; coffee as strong as a friendly hand; sugar sweet as the tongue of a rogue; and Irish whiskey as smooth as the wit of the land.”
George was meeting his co-author, Mary, in Oakland, California to discuss their latest book collaboration and decided that the best meeting place, considering the content, should be a bar. Mary suggested a classic Irish pub on College Avenue called McNally’s, and this is where George found himself, sitting at the long bar waiting for her to arrive.
“What did you just make for that group of gentleman?” George inquired of the barman.
“Those are Irish Coffees. We make a ton of them,” he replied.
“Let’s have one, please,” George requested.
The bartender nodded and quickly prepared his drink. Just as George was taking his first sip, Mary walked in and joined him at the bar.
“Looks like you’ve already tried the specialty of the house,” she commented.
“Yes, and it’s delicious. Let me order you one,” he offered.
As Mary and George enjoyed their Irish Coffees, caught up on the events of the last three months and discussed the format for their next book, Mary suddenly had a moment of inspiration. “You know what we should do? We should go to San Francisco and have an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café,” she exclaimed.
“Why the Buena Vista Café?” George asked.
“It’s where the Irish Coffee was first introduced in the United States,” Mary answered.
“Sounds like a great idea,” he replied.
George paid the check and they walked to the BART station, where they boarded a train into the city. They got off at the Powell Street stop and quickly boarded a cable car, which would transport them to Fisherman’s Wharf and a short walk to the front door of the famous Buena Vista Café. Once inside the crowded café, they found two seats at the long bar and quickly noticed a line of small, bell-shaped glasses running the length of the bar, which the bartender was rapidly preparing Irish Coffees in. George managed to get his attention.
“We’ll have two Irish Coffees, please,” George said, placing his order.
George found his Irish Coffee to be the perfect blend of strong hot coffee, sugar, rich cream and Irish whiskey – it went down very easily. He soon found himself face-to-face with his third one and decided it was time for some nourishment. Perusing the menu under “Breakfast Served All Day,” he found one of his favorites, corned beef with poached eggs, which turned out to be the perfect complement to an Irish Coffee. George ordered for both of them, and he and Mary enjoyed their meal. The bartender approached to clear their empty plates and inquired if they would like anything else.
“We’ll have a ‘final final,’” George replied, “but tell me, what is the story behind the Buena Vista and the Irish Coffee?”
The bartender first explained to George and Mary that the drink was created by Joe Sheridan, a chef at Foynes Airport, County Limerick, and then he went on to tell the rest of the story. “One night in 1942, due to a bad storm, a Pan Am flying boat returned to Foynes, and the passengers arrived very cold and weary. So Joe Sheridan mixed up something to warm the passengers up and also lift their spirits. Inspired by a drink he made for himself to help with his hangover – strong coffee with a little Irish whiskey – he also added some brown sugar and floated whipped heavy cream on top. He dubbed it ‘Gaelic Coffee’ and so the Irish Coffee was born that night. Years later, international travel writer with the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanton Delaplane, discovered Sheridan’s Irish Coffee at the Shannon Airport. He brought the recipe back to San Francisco and persuaded his friend and owner of the Buena Vista Café, Jack Koeppler, to re-create the drink. After many, many unsuccessful attempts, and with the help of San Francisco’s Mayor George Christopher, who happened to own a dairy, success was finally theirs. On November 10, 1952 the Irish Coffee was launched right here at the Buena Vista. Today, we make about 2,000 Irish Coffees a day!”
“Wow, amazing! One last question: What type of Irish whiskey do you use?” George asked.
“In our Irish Coffee, we feature Tullamore D.E.W, but there are so many wonderful Irish whiskies available today. I guess the only way to find out which one you like best is to visit Ireland and sample as many as possible,” suggested the bartender.
George thought this was a wonderful idea, and after a quick call to his assistant, he had changed his schedule and booked a flight out of San Francisco International Airport the following day, for Dublin. After arriving in Dublin and checking into his hotel, George was anxious to begin his quest for the perfect Irish Coffee. Well, as luck would have it, he happened upon Slattery’s Bar with its self-promoting sign boasting “The Home of Irish Coffee, Probably the Best in Dublin” as well as a sign stating that Anthony Bourdain recommends their Irish breakfast. George walked in and grabbed a seat at the crowded bar, knowing immediately that he was in the right spot to begin his search.
“I’ll have an Irish Coffee and the Irish breakfast, please,” George requested of the barman.
The Irish Coffee, arriving in a mug, was made from instant coffee, granulated sugar and wonderful, fresh cream floating on top. They used Tullamore D.E.W in their recipe but George had a hard time getting past the instant coffee. The Irish breakfast was indeed wonderful, featuring a large portion of bangers, Irish bacon, black and white puddings, fried eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes, and potatoes that were fried up in butter, all of which was served with plenty of Irish soda bread.
“How’s everything?” inquired the barman.
“The breakfast is delicious. Can I get a small Guinness to wash it down with, please?”
At this point, the barman and any man sitting close enough to hear this request began to chuckle. George learned in that fleeting moment that a man never orders a small Guinness in a proper Irish pub.
George paid his check, left Slattery’s hoping that was not, indeed, Dublin’s best Irish Coffee. Next stop was the Bank on College Green, which was said to make a fantastic Irish Coffee, and indeed they did – strong brewed coffee, brown sugar, freshly whipped heavy cream and Kilbeggan Irish whiskey, with a dusting of ground cinnamon.
“Nice Irish Coffee! Question: Are there any distilleries in Dublin I could visit?” George inquired.
“Glad you like it. The only distillery in Dublin itself is Teeling and they do great tours. You should check them out,” the barman replied.
George jumped in a cab and headed straight to the Teeling Distillery, where he was greeted by Kevin Hurley, Teeling Whiskey’s Global Brand Ambassador. Kevin took George on a tour and explained to him that, at one time, Dublin was home to 37 distilleries. When Irish whiskey fell on hard times, the last one closed in 1976 but it re-opened its doors in 2015. He went on to explain that Teeling produces blended, single malt and single grain Irish whiskies, and the whiskey that’s in the bottle today was distilled at the Cooley distillery. He noted it would be several years before any of the whiskey being distilled at Teeling in their three beautiful copper pot stills would be matured.
“So what about the Irish Coffee?” George asked.
“Well, we make one here at our bar featuring the Teeling Small Batch blended whiskey,” Kevin replied. “Would you like to try one?”
“I would love to!” George anxiously replied.
“We finish our Small Batch blended whiskey in used rum casks and bottle it at 46%, which stands up nicely in an Irish Coffee,” Kevin described. “I do a little twist to the original recipe with strong brewed coffee from the café downstairs, a house-made spiced stout syrup, and orange-zested whipped fresh cream, with a dusting of nutmeg.”
George found the spiced syrup to be a wonderful complement to the Teeling whiskey, combined with the hot coffee making its way through the chilled whipped, orange-zested cream, and it produced a very unique spin on a classic Irish Coffee. “Thank you! This is perhaps the most distinctive Irish Coffee I have ever had – it’s wonderful – and I love that you serve it in the Buena Vista glass,” George commented.
“I love that glass. It’s hard to find in Ireland, and I had to pull some strings to get some. I love the Buena Vista – they make a great Irish Coffee even if they do use Tullamore D.E.W.,” Kevin explained. “You should take the train to Tullamore and visit my friends Tim Herlihy and Kevin Pigott; they’ll take good care of you.”
George thanked Kevin for his hospitality and the yummy Irish Coffee, and headed back to his hotel for a nap and to make plans to visit Tullamore the next day. After catching some much-needed shuteye, George awoke refreshed and very hungry, so he headed out to the Temple Bar area of the city in search of some traditional Irish fare. His first stop was Klaw’s Oyster Bar, for a plate of Flaggy Shore oysters and a pint of Guinness. Next stop was Leo Burdock’s, for the best fish & chips ever and more Guinness from the pub next door. George finished up at the Temple Bar Pub for one last Irish Coffee and some traditional Irish music, before heading back to his hotel, as he had an early train in the morning to Tullamore.
George arrived in Tullamore and went straight to the Tullamore D.E.W. visitor’s center, which is housed in their refurbished 19th-century bonded warehouse. George signed up for a tour and quickly realized there was a lot to learn about Tullamore D.E.W. He discovered that Tullamore D.E.W. produces both single malt and blended Irish whiskies, and that “D.E.W.” are the initials of Daniel E. Williams, who opened the original distillery in 1829. After the tour, George retired to the bar inside the visitor’s center, where he was joined by Kevin and Tim and they shared a couple of Irish Coffees.
“Would you like to visit the new distillery that we just opened in 2014?” Tim inquired.
“That would be amazing!” George replied. The three of them finished their Irish Coffees and made the short trip to the beautiful new distillery.
“We triple distill our whiskey,” Tim explained, pointing to their three exquisite copper pot stills. “Here at Tullamore D.E.W., we use a blend of grain, malt and rich pot still whiskies.”
Kevin enlightened George on the types of Irish whiskey, starting with single malt made from 100 percent malted barley; single grain, made from a single grain and generally distilled in a column still; single pot, made from both malted and un-malted barley; and finally – and by far the most popular – blended Irish whiskey, which as the name implies, is a blend of any of the others.
After the tour, they made a quick stop at their local pub for a swift pint of Guinness before his hosts took George to the train station. On the way, Tim stopped by their local chippy and picked up a bag of fish & chips for George to eat on the train ride back to Dublin – talk about Irish hospitality!
“This has been an amazing visit. Thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge of Irish whiskey with me,” George said, expressing his gratitude.
“It has been our pleasure. We hope you will come back and visit us again very soon. There’s plenty of whiskey to sample,” Kevin replied.
On the train, George ordered a pint of Guinness and devoured his fish & chips, thinking about the wonderful people he had recently met and his newfound appreciation for Irish whiskey. But when it comes to the perfect Irish Coffee, he would simply need to return to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café!
THE BUENA VISTA CAFE’S IRISH COFFEE
2C&H Sugar cubes
4-6 ozBrewed coffee
1 ⅓ ozTullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey
Heavy cream, lightly whipped
Preheat a six-ounce, heat-proof glass by filling with hot water. Once warm, empty the glass. Add two sugar cubes to the glass and then pour coffee over until the glass is three-fourths full. Stir thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1 ⅓ ounces of whiskey to the coffee. Float a layer of whipped cream over the top of the coffee by pouring gently over a spoon.