When did you first start drinking coffee? The sudden realization that this dark and mysterious beverage that brings your parents to life each morning is actually delicious is a mark of growing up, not unlike turning 21. The first tentative sips begin a new identity -- cream? sugar? -- and, more often than not, a lifelong addiction.
Like Red Bull and vodka, the OG Four Loko, and crushed No-Doz in Kahlua Mudslide, Irish coffee is one of those magical beverages that gets you drunk at the same time it gets you buzzed. In yet another brief, rainy time between bouts of Colorado sunshine, I snagged my first-ever cup at Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge.
I'm as vulnerable to the pleasures of caffeine, sugar and booze as anyone, but I was surprised at how satisfying Crave's Irish coffee ($10) is. A layer of thick whipped cream -- and not Reddi Whip, either -- and the heady aroma of freshly ground nutmeg made a simple and sometimes vulgar drink quite memorable.
Sean Kenyon, our "Behind the Bar" columnist, wrote about the origins of Irish coffee a couple of years back. In the 1940s, Joe Sheridan first served the beverage at his restaurant in the airport terminal of Foynes in Limerick, Ireland; Stan Deplane, a dashing travel journalist with an unlikely name, was served an Irish coffee on his arrival to Sheridan's new restaurant in the Rineanna airport. The impressed writer took the idea back to San Francisco and the Buena Vista restaurant. But as the story goes, the kitchen had trouble getting the drink to turn out the way it had in Ireland. So Sheridan was brought from the old country to San Francisco, to popularize Irish coffee in America.The drink is still strongly associated with its homeland, even though when properly prepared, the Irish whisky is practically undetectable.
The sensation of sipping spiked coffee through a layer of cream is unique in the cocktail world. What else makes Irish coffee so different? And what makes Crave's simple -- but pricey -- mug so delicious? I asked Crave's bar manager, Chris Vallerio, for his secret.
"Really, if you add alcohol to anything, it's going to be better," he says. "But it's actually our coffee, I think, that makes it so good." Crave gets its coffee from Denver-based Method Roasters, whose blend easily holds up to the sweetness and whiskey kick in the drink. "And the fact that we freshly whip the cream ourselves."
Vallerio provided us with the formula behind Crave's Irish coffee, one of those drinks that doesn't reward much experimentation (though Kenyon recommends whipping a few drops of Angostura bitters into the cream). Keep this one handy for the coming winter months.
Irish coffee Ingredients:
1.5 oz. Jameson (or cheaper Irish whisky) 1 packet white or raw sugar (1/2 tsp.) 4 oz. Method Roasters drip coffee Hand-whipped cream, (whip with sugar) Grated nutmeg to taste
In a glass or ceramic mug, drop the whisky into the sugar, then fill with coffee. Pour whipped cream over the back of a bar spoon or teaspoon. Grate nutmeg. Begin wearing scarves and habitually rubbing your hands together to complete the illusion of winter.
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With every installment of Coming of Age with 21 Drinks, I'll be featuring a cocktail recipe cooked up by me or the bar itself. Have a suggestion for a place I should visit? Post it below.