Irish coffee is one of the few classic cocktails around with a clear history. On a wintery night in 1943, passengers on a transatlantic “flying boat” en route to Newfoundland returned to Ireland due to bad weather. As the Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum reports it, chef Joe Sheridan, who headed up the airport’s restaurant, wanted to cheer and warm the worn-out passengers, so he added some Irish whiskey to their coffees, setting off what quickly became an international craze.
While Sheridan wasn’t the first person to add a warming spirit to coffee, smart marketing and access to international jetsetters spread his concept—served in an elegant stemmed glass with slightly whipped cream floating carefully atop—around the world.
These days, notes Devin Jeffers, head bartender at Opus in Salem, spirited coffee drinks are especially popular when the weather turns frosty, and can embrace anything from vodka to rum. One favorite at Opus is Blueberry Coffee—Triple 8 Blueberry Vodka from Nantucket, blended with coffee and topped with cinnamon whipped cream.
While Irish Coffee is often listed with the desserts, Jeffers says that Opus’s location, right near the Salem train station, invites commuters to stop in for a pick-me-up after work or before heading into Boston for a night on the town.
“It’s a warm and inviting beverage—it just warms you up but gives you a little of that caffeine boost as well,” says Jeffers, who trained under top mixologist Ramona Shah.
This popular St. Patrick’s Day elixir has become ubiquitous on every type of drink menu. However, a good one is hard to find—from old, insipid coffee to too-sweet cream or cheap booze, there are many, many ways to go wrong.
“Flavor profiles are absolutely key,” Jeffers says, adding that a good whiskey or other spirit base is imperative. When crafting his latest coffee beverage, the Shore Leave, Jeffers wanted to make something with a nautical theme, so he steered toward Privateer Amber Rum as a base. “They are one of the top rum brands in the country; they are a local company, and their amber rum in particular pairs well with raw sugar, like demerara,” Jeffers says, adding that he wanted to bring out some molasses notes as a nod to Salem’s seafaring heritage.
After contemplating the blend of flavors, it’s important to manage the alcohol content. As Jeffers notes, with a hot beverage, more alcohol vapors are released, which can quickly overwhelm everything else. “You want to balance it really well between the heat, the alcohol, and the sweetness—you don’t want it too sweet,” he adds.
One surprise in the Shore Leave is Braulio, an Italian bitter liqueur. Jeffers says that especially if you use a French press to make your coffee—his preferred method—it extracts a lot of oils. An amaro like Braulio balances the smoothness of the coffee with a hint of bitterness. “Amaro and coffee pair beautifully,” Jeffers says, noting that one of his favorite summer beverages is iced coffee with Montenegro, another Italian bitter liqueur.
Of course, in order for any of the other ingredients to shine, the coffee must be great. “Most of the beverage is coffee,” Jeffers says. “If your coffee isn’t good, you are not going to have a good drink.” He advises talking to your local barista to get a good blend and to make it right. Or just stop by Opus and ask for a Shore Leave.
Makes one drink
Crafted by Devin Jeffers, head bartender, Opus, Salem
> 1 oz. Privateer Amber Rum
> .5 oz. Vanilla Cinnamon Simple Syrup*
> .25 oz. Braulio
> Whipped cream
> Ground cinnamon and raw sugar
1. Combine Privateer Amber Rum, Vanilla Cinnamon Simple Syrup, and Braulio in a warmed mug or heatproof glass. Top with strong brewed black coffee and whipped cream.
2. Garnish with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and raw sugar.
Vanilla Cinnamon Simple Syrup
> 4 cups water
> 2 cups brown sugar
> 2 sticks Ceylon cinnamon
> 1 vanilla pod, split
1. Combine water, cinnamon, and vanilla in a pot. Bring to a boil.
2. Simmer on medium heat until the mixture is reduced by half.
3. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. When fully integrated, remove from heat and strain.
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