History Of The Irish Coffee
The Irish Coffee was invented in 1952 by Joe Sheridan, Stanton Delaplane, and the Buena Vista Cafe owner Jack Koeppler in San Francisco. The Buena Vista website tells the story of how they worked tirelessly into the night trying to recreate the Irish coffees’ found at the Shannon Airport airport in Ireland. Coffee and Alcohol cocktails were nothing new. There were already a few, the most popular and similar to the Irish coffee being the Cafe Royale, which was Brandy, sugar, and coffee. The Cafe Royale dates back to the early 1900s; It’s just missing the heavy cream on top.
The California Historical Society independently confirmed 1952 as the date Irish Coffee was invented. If they say so, then I’m sure it’s true. I don’t doubt they did their research. The oldest printed reference I can find to the Irish Coffee comes from a Playgoer magazine, stating that after the show, the theatre company will host Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe. In addition, an issue of Wine & Vine from San Francisco mentions the Irish Coffee as a new hit in the Bay Area and even gives a recipe that mentions the float of heavy cream on top. Unfortunately, I cannot narrow down the dates in google, and both of the magazine issue dates range from the 1930s to the 1950s.
In 1958 English edition of David Embury book “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”, Embury writes by the Irish coffee recipe:
“The Irish coffee has attained great popularity in a number of New York Restaurants. Different restaurants have their own special formulas and hocus-pocus for serving it but, essentially, a jigger of Irish whisky, is blended in a cup or mug with sugar to taste, hot coffee is added to within about a half inch from the top, and then extra-heavy cream is floated gently on top.”
Clearly, the Irish Coffee quickly spread across the US and became a popular pick-me-up drink. If you want to try this classic cocktail at its origin bar, then the next time you visit San Francisco, stop by the Buena Vista Cafe and have an Irish Coffee.
After publishing this article, I was contacted by the social media coordinator and historian for the Buena Vista Cafe (She was super friendly and helpful), and she was kind enough to correct a few issues I had with my dates. I have updated the article to reflect those changes.
Also, I have the 1961 edition linked below because that is the only one I can find for free online, but in my 1958 copy, the section on the Irish coffee is the same. I also found a 1948 edition of his book, and the Irish Coffee is not present in that edition.