irishcoffeeFoynes, Ireland (1942)

There’s few things more satisfying and comforting than a well-made Irish Coffee. The cool cream blends with the hot coffee as you take that first sip, backed up by the mellow nip of Irish whiskey and sweet rich sugar. Perfect for a rainy afternoon pick-me-up or for a turbo-charged dessert.

To make this really special, you’ll want to pay attention to the details, starting with the whiskey. Irish whiskey is mellow, the softer predecessor to wild country Scotch whisky. I prefer Redbreast in this – it’s an old-style whiskey made in pot stills that give spirits more body and funk than column stills (those make for cleaner, crisper spirits). That extra bit of character stands up well when mixed with bold coffee.

For the coffee, go for the best you can produce at home. Use a medium roast (darker if you prefer) and grind your beans fresh. Use a French Press or a pour-over kit to make the coffee (drip coffee makers generally don’t get the water hot enough to extract the best flavor). Make it on the strong side since you’ll be diluting it with whiskey. For the sugar, go with demerara or turbinado sugar – that extra bit of molasses softens and unifies the coffee and whiskey where white sugar would be cutting and sharp. If you don’t have the right sugar on hand, mix half white sugar and half brown sugar – that’ll get you close enough. And for the whipped cream: sorry to say, but you gotta whip it fresh. Premade and presweetened whipped cream isn’t the right texture, won’t float on top, and has sweetness that will nuke your beautiful drink.

This is an example where specific glassware makes a difference: Many places use a larger handled 8.5-ounce glass that encourages a bit too much coffee in the mix. To do this drink proper, buy a set of the 6-ounce Libbey “Georgian” glasses they used in the original (made during World War II at a coastal seaplane port) and at The Buena Vista in San Francisco (where they make up to 2,000 Irish Coffees a day).

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Plastic Measuring Cup, Teaspoon measure, Kettle, French Press (or pour-over kit), Standing mixer (or whisk), Barspoon
Glassware: 6-ounce Irish Coffee glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Redbreast, Jameson, Tullamore DEW)
Mixer: Coffee
Accents & Garnishes: Demerara sugar, Freshly-whipped heavy cream

HOW TO

Boil enough water to prepare your coffee, plus a bit extra. When boiled, fill your Irish Coffee glass with boiling water to preheat, then prepare your coffee. While the coffee is brewing, in a standing mixer (or by hand using a whisk), whip 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken. Stop before you get to soft peaks – the cream should be thick but still pourable. When the coffee is ready, pour out the boiling water that was added to the Irish Coffee glass.

In the glass, combine:
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
scant 1/2 cup coffee

Stir well to mix and dissolve sugar, then slowly ladle the cold whipped cream over the top to float – just enough to fill the glass, no more. Distribute and level the whipped cream with the back of a barspoon.

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Scotland (mid-17th century)

There’s a tradition passed down from generation to generation, from the Old Country to the New World, of Hot Toddies in the winter months to cure whatever ails may (or may not) be present. Jimmy Russell, veteran master distiller at Wild Turkey, recently told me when he and his friends were growing up in Kentucky, they learned to fake a cough so they could get in a little nip of bourbon at age eight.

The Hot Toddy is traditionally made with a good-quality single malt Speyside or Highland Scotch whisky, but feel free to sub in bourbon, rye, an aged or dark rum, brandy or cognac. But really, Scotch works best. Old-school and as simple as they come: spirit served warm with dilution, something sweet, and a touch of citrus brightness. It’s easy think of this drink as a template and experiment with dressing it up – try different sweeteners (honey is common), a splash of lemon juice, even a mix of different spirits. You’ll be feeling better in no time.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Plastic measuring cup
Glassware: Ceramic or glass mug
Spirit: Scotch whisky (recommended: The Macallan, The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Oban, Glen Garioch)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Demerara sugar, Boiling water
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pre-warm a ceramic or glass mug with boiling water while you’re assembling the ingredients. Discard the water, then combine in the mug:
1 tsp demerara sugar
1/4 cup boiling water  (use the plastic measuring cup)
1 lemon twist 

Stir to dissolve sugar, then add:

2 oz Scotch whisky

Stir again to blend.

Colonial America (mid-17th century)

When the weather turns colder, there’s few things better than a good Hot Buttered Rum – so long as you make it with real ingredients, not the powdered mix. There’s two parts to this recipe: a batter you’ll make beforehand (then store in an airtight container in the freezer), and the simple drink mix itself.

Hot rum drinks like this were common in Colonial America, but I suspect it took Middle America to perfect it with a decadent sweet-and-spiced butter/ice cream batter. There are countless recipe variations on Hot Buttered Rum – this one comes from my mother-in-law, who used to make it in Seattle (and, by chance, this is very close to the version made at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café). Stick with a good-quality, flavorful, rum like Plantation OFTD (amazing and potent), Appleton or Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black – but Coruba will work, too (don’t be tempted to use a spiced rum, it’ll become a spice bomb). For the bold and adventurous, take it a level up by using Smith & Cross “Navy Strength” 114-proof Jamaican rum – all those toffee & butterscotch flavors in Smith & Cross’s beloved funky hogo really shine in this. Or dive deeper and experiment with a blend of rums – or even rum and brandy – to get your flavor just right.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Plastic measuring cup, Standing mixer (optional)
Glassware: Ceramic or glass mug
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Plantation OFTD, Coruba, Hamilton, Smith & Cross)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Hot Buttered Rum Batter (recipe below), Boiling water
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Cinnamon stick or fresh nutmeg

HOT BUTTERED RUM BATTER

In a saucepan over medium-low heat (just warm enough to melt the ice cream and butter), add together:
1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 lb brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Stir until well-blended, then pour into an airtight container and freeze. Batter will keep a long time – I have some from a year ago that’s just fine.

HOW TO

Pre-warm a ceramic or glass mug with boiling water while you’re assembling the ingredients. Discard the water, then combine in the mug:
1 1/2 oz dark rum
2 tbl hot buttered rum batter (leave frozen, it’ll melt as you stir)
1/2 cup boiling water (use the plastic measuring cup)
Stir to blend. Garnish with a long cinnamon stick or a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.

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