We have Ireland to thank for a great deal of cultural contributions (Joyce, Wilde, Enya, etc.), but today we express gratitude for a quintessentially Irish innovation: the humble Irish coffee, whose simplicity is only outmatched by its deliciousness.
And while St. Patrick’s Day gives you as good an excuse as any to whip up a boozy, buzzy drink, that cocktail from the Emerald Isle is far from the only adult beverage that benefits from the addition of coffee.
Coffee is highly underrated as a mixer. Like sugar, it delivers a jolt. But unlike sugar, it enhances the flavors of the cocktail’s other ingredients while adding hits of robust, toasty, dark-chocolaty goodness. Plus, its versatility means you can enjoy it year-round and any time of day, whether you’re pairing a drink with savory brunch or enjoying a refreshing after-dinner libation.
We enlisted some of most respected bartenders, mixologists, and spirits experts in the world to give their two cents on how to use coffee for fun cocktails you can make in the comfort of your own home. Here’s what they told us:
Balance the flavors in this iconic St. Paddy’s drink: Use a blended Irish whiskey plus drip coffee (not espresso), and sweeten the coffee, not the cream, says Jillian Vose, beverage director at the Dead Rabbit in N.Y.C.
Make it: In a 6 oz glass, add 1 oz blended Irish whiskey (like Bushmills Original), 3½ oz coffee, and 1/8 oz simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water). Top with whipped heavy cream. Garnish with grated nutmeg, if you’d like.
Bonus HOLY SH!T cocktail trick: Homemade whipped cream is far superior to Reddi-wip but a pain to make—unless you have a protein shaker. Fill yours a quarter of the way with heavy cream, close the lid, and then shake like heck until the cream thickens but is still pourable. (Yes, this counts as an arm workout.)
It’s what James Bond drinks with breakfast. Ease up on the sweetness and you’ll taste more of what you love about coffee, says Brendan Bartley, head bartender of Bathtub Gin in N.Y.C.
Make it: In a shaker, add 1½ oz coffee-flavored vodka (DIY: place a cheesecloth-lined strainer atop a container, add a handful of used coffee grounds, then pour vodka over them, plus 1½ oz each cacao liqueur and brewed espresso). Fill the shaker with ice, shake, double strain into a coupe glass, and top with ground cacao nibs.
Like any good old-fashioned, this spiced-up take leans on liquor. If you love bitter, boozy, and smoky flavors, this is all you, says Anthony Baker of New Jersey’s Momentum Mixology.
Make it: In a rocks glass, add ¼ oz sugar coffee cordial (2 parts demerara sugar or brown sugar dissolved in 1 part hot coffee), 2 dashes Hella Mexican Chocolate bitters or Angostura bitters, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 oz mezcal, and 2 oz añejo tequila. Add 1 large ice cube and garnish with lime zest.
For such a simple cocktail, Irish coffee can be surprisingly easy to botch. Too much booze overpowers the roasty, sweet coffee notes, and too much coffee or sugar can have you questioning if you forgot to take out your bottle of whiskey in the first place. This twist on the classic from San Diego duo Jesse Peterson (Morning Glory and Chris Patino (Simple Serve) adds a touch of fruit for a go-to brunch order or a mildly indulgent dessert drink.
Make it: In a blender, add 2 cups ice, 1½ oz Proper No. Twleve Whiskey, 3 oz cold brew coffee, 1/2 oz heavy cream, and 1/2 of a ripe banana and combine until slightly thickened (not completely stiff). Pour into a hurricane glass or goblet and enjoy with a straw.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to enjoy a coffee cocktail. This devilishly simple pick-me-up balances a tang of acidity from the cold brew coffee against the sweet warmth of the whiskey, says Slane co-founder Alex Conyngham. Make this on a weekend morning or as an early-afternoon treat to help you power through a fun day.
Make it: In a shaker over ice, add 3 oz whiskey, 1 oz syrup/honey and 6 oz cold brew coffee. Shake or stir well to dissolve the syrup and then strain into a glass over fresh ice. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2021 issue of Men’s Health.
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