Sip of the Irish: Irish Coffee Variations

St. Patrick’s Day is still a few months away, but it’s still cold—perfect weather conditions for Irish coffee! As one of the oldest and most widely adapted cocktails on the market, we thought we’d dive in and give you all the tips and tricks to making the perfect mug at home, as well as some fun variations to keep you warm, cozy, and caffeinated.

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So, what is an Irish Coffee? While there is no single inventor of what we now know as the “classic” Irish Coffee recipe, we do know that coffee cocktails started to crop up around western Europe (predominantly Germany, Denmark, France) in the 19th century. However, there are several cocktail sources who lay claim to the creation of the quintessential coffee, whiskey, and cream concoction we know and love, all starting in or around 1950.  However it started, the cocktail is easy to recreate in your own kitchen. 

Classic Preparation

You’ll need a glass or ceramic mug that is heat-safe. Preheat the mug with boiling water and pour it out just before you’re ready to add the fresh coffee. If hot coffee hits a cold cup, it's bound to yield a bitter brew.

It’s important to note that you can use whatever coffee you like best in this cocktail, but conventional bar wisdom tells us that regular ‘ol  instant coffee can and will work perfectly. It’s totally fun to play around with different brews though and we encourage you to do so. Our current favorite is Stumptown’s Holler Mountain Blend for its creamy caramel undertones and fruit forward nose. 

Fill the mug about ¾-full with a nice, piping hot, rich brew, then stir in 1 tablespoon brown sugar until it is fully dissolved. Add 1 oz Irish whiskey, then top with whipped cream by pouring it ever-so-gently over the back of a spoon. Classically garnished with a sprinkle of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, cocoa powder and shaved chocolate are great options.  When it comes to Irish whiskey, we’re big fans of Dead Rabbit, with its lovely blend of barrel spices, dark vanilla, and toasted nuts.


Now for the variations on a theme. With this basic structure and flavor profile you can quite literally go anywhere with this cocktail, which is part of why it's been such a bar darling for so long. You can dress it up, dress it down, go fruity, smooth, smoky, spicy or sweet with it, so don’t shy away from exploring, and let us know what you come up with, because we’re always down to try new recipes.

Smoky Coffee 

One of the most common forms for the Irish Coffee to take is the smoky route. For our traditionalists try a peated bourbon or a peated Scotch (we recommend Kings County’s Peated Bourbon or Laphroaig 10), you might want to swap out your brown sugar for white sugar to play better with those smoky notes and garnish with a cinnamon stick. 

For those looking for a more adventurous cocktail, give Mezcal a try! You might think we’re talking crazy but mezcal can bring some gorgeous spice, smoke and citrus to the game. We recommend a mezcal with a good bit of smoke, like Del Maguey Vida Mezcal. Aside from it’s delightful smokiness, the notes of vanilla and dried fruit complement coffee and cream as well as any whiskey. The construction is the same, but try cardamom in lieu of nutmeg and a drop or two of orange bitters to make those fruity notes sing! 

Irish Rum(ble) Coffee

If whiskey isn’t your thing you don’t have to sit this one out. Spiced rum makes an excellent addition to the Irish coffee canon. We recommend a spiced Rum like Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum which on top of its spiced notes has enough power to still be perceivable amongst lots of different flavors. By replacing the whiskey component with a rum, you’re perfectly balancing the bitterness of the coffee with spicy-sweet notes from the rum. If you’re really feeling yourself add a tiny pinch of kosher salt and 1.5 tablespoons of dark brown sugar to your heavy cream before you whip it up to add even more depth to the drink. The rest of the recipe is virtually the same, if you like a more whipped whip cream dollop it on and garnish with nutmeg.