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Irish Coffee – Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish Coffee is internationally famous and a favorite after dinner drink throughout the world. It was invented at Foynes, a small town in the West of Ireland, and compared to Irish whiskey, its history is relatively recent.

According to the Ireland Whiskey Trail, Foynes was an airbase near Limerick, in fact it was the main airport for Flying Boats between America and Europe. By 1940, the airport was handling many passengers, including many American VIPs from the world of politics and Hollywood. Weather conditions along the West coast of Ireland can be notoriously bad, and often what was supposed to be just a stopover for refueling turned into an overnight stay.

In 1942 a new restaurant opened under the responsibility of a young Irish chef, Joe Sheridan. Sheridan was tasked with the catering for the many important passengers passing through Foynes, hoping to present a very positive image of Ireland and its people to the world.

One winter night, in 1942, a flight left Foynes for Botwood in Newfoundland and then on to New York. After several hours of battling a storm, the pilot decided to turn back to Foynes – which was unfortunately not an unusual occurrence. As always, the restaurant was informed to prepare food and drink, as passengers would be cold and tired.

Joe Sheridan decided to prepare something special to warm the passengers up. He brewed dark, rich coffee, added in some Irish whiskey, a little brown sugar and floated freshly whipped cream on top of each cup. The story goes that there was a hushed silence as people drank this brew for the first time. “Hey Buddy,” said a surprised American passenger, “is this Brazilian coffee?” “No,” said Joe, “that’s Irish Coffee.”

The coffee was such a success that Joe made it a regular part of the menu in Foynes. Irish Coffee may never have become an international success, had the travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, not brought the recipe back to Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco. They attempted to recreate it, but without much success. Apparently, the cool cream on top kept sinking. Undeterred, Joe Koeppler travelled to Ireland to learn the correct way to make it. As fate would have it, by 1945 the era of the Flying Boat was coming to an end and Foynes closed in order to make way for landplanes. A new airport was opened on the other side of the Shannon Estuary – Shannon International Airport. Joe Sheridan, then working in Shannon, took his famous drink to the new airport and worked there until 1952, when the Buena Vista Cafe offered him a position. Joe is still fondly remembered in Shannon and the story of Irish Coffee is commemorated in the Foynes Flying Boat Museum.