Ever since it was introduced to the American public in 1952 at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe, the Irish Coffee has become a seasonal stalwart alongside cold-weather standbys like the Hot Toddy, Wassail and Hot Buttered Rum. Bartenders were quick to spot its appeal, and the drink was adopted nationwide, but not without every element first coming under scrutiny—from the base spirit to the signature cream topper—in pursuit of the ultimate expression of the classic. Naturally, like any cocktail that’s managed to wedge itself into the canon of classics, the Irish Coffee has gone on to become the inspiration behind a new school of modern interpretations.
Some, like Jelani Johnson’s Irish Coffee, maintain the defining features of the original, but add a subtle twist in the addition of flavored cream. In his interpretation, Drambuie and Licor 43 are shaken with the cream, which is then layered on top of the drink for added dimension. It’s a technique favored by Mary Palac of Paper Plane in San Jose, too, who tops her Irish Coffee with a chai-flavored cream for a spiced-up version.
Others depart from the expected Irish whiskey base in favor of aged rum. St. John Frizell’s Koffie Van Brunt, for example, marries the cane spirit with Cherry Heering and espresso for an unorthodox spin, while Troy Sidle tops his rum-based take with génépy-flavored cream. At Chicago’s Coda di Volpe, meanwhile, the drink takes a detour through Italy where Averna and chocolate liqueur are complemented by a Fernet Branca Menta–flavored cream topper in the aptly named Italian Irish Coffee.
Though it may not resemble an Irish Coffee at first glance, Richie Boccato’s Coffee House is a modernized take on the Irish Coffee’s predecessor, an equal-parts mixture of rye and black coffee. Boccato streamlines the recipe into an Old-Fashioned-style drink by replacing the coffee with coffee liqueur, without sacrificing any of the warmth and spice of the original.