UMAMI MART MATSURI FESTIVAL
Some of my friends think of me as the guy who likes fancy-schmancy cocktails. It's true, I like a lot of fancy-schmancy things. I really like the word fancy-schmancy. It is also true that on occasion I can be a pain in the ass for some unsuspecting and unprepared bartender when I'm lecturing him about how he shook my Negroni when instead he should have stirred it. But that's not the entire picture. In reality, I'm a fan of any cocktail that tastes great, no matter how common the ingredients involved or how easy to prepare. The truth is, many cocktails that are perceived as being fancy are in fact quite easy to prepare. Simplicity can be and usually is great.

For some reason though, some time between the end of Prohibition and now there seems to have been a wholesale dumbing down of drinking culture--to the point where classic drinks that have always been easy and effortless for anyone (especially bartenders) to make, have fallen prey to those seeking to cut as many corners as possible. And those cocktails that didn't lend themselves to streamlining, well, they were cut from the bartender's repertoire altogether.

My most recent experience with this sort of fuckery was when I tried to order an Irish Coffee at various New York bars. A bartender at one place didn't know how to make one. Another didn't have any coffee. Still at another spot the bartender forgot to add the sugar. And yet another didn't know to put any cream on top. It's not like I asked for a Hot Toddy or anything. It seemed like it would have been easier to get a matzo ball soup at Ahmadinejad's than an Irish Coffee in all of New York City!

This experience led me to realize how far things have regressed and how much work there is to be done to rehabilitate this country's ability to drink purposefully. Dogs have Cesar Milan, but if you think about it, who do cocktails have? That's right. It is time for this country to wake up and smell the Irish Coffee, as it is due time we had a Cocktail Whisperer. And it is thus appropriate to begin my campaign for the hearts and minds (and livers) of Americans by discussing the drink that inspired my cause.

One story of the drink's origin credits the invention of the Irish Coffee to Joseph Sheridan, who created this drink for a group of weary American travelers on a winter evening while a chef at Foynes Restaurant in Ireland in the 1940s. The other story is that the drink was invented by Tom Bergin, owner of the famous Tom Bergin's Tavern in Los Angeles. But I guess the history doesn't really matter now since no one seems to know how to make one any more. So aspiring bartenders pay attention (and a few of you veterans as well) because it doesn't get any simpler.

Irish Coffee
1.5 oz Irish Whiskey
2 tsp Brown sugar
Hot freshly brewed coffee to fill
Whipped cream to top (you can also use non-whipped cream)

Warm the whiskey in a small saucepan. If the whiskey flames up, just pretend like you did it on purpose and commence with making the rest of the drink, as it tends to impress guests. Add the sugar to your mug and pour the whiskey and coffee on top and stir to dissolve. Top with the whipped cream. Apparently in the original drink they used non-whipped cream, but I like it better this way. It nearly resembles a Guinness in the way the creamy adornment leaves behind tiny whisps of cream as it slowly dissipates into the rest of the drink.

For me, Irish Coffee evokes a time when hosts knew how to properly treat their guests by offering a nice after-dinner cordial. Until you've tried one in this fashion, you've never really had one at all, as few nightcaps offer such humble indulgence. It was also a subtle overture to dinner guests that things will be wrapping up soon. But of course, as goes the cocktail, so go the social graces. Cheers!

Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle's weekly Happy Hour column.

Photography by Vanessa Bahmani
Column: Happy Hour
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7 comments

  • Hmm, I was just going to say this looks good but other people are getting buck naked in these here comments! Cocktail whispering indeed. Anyhow, I think I only had this drink once, and it had no sugar in it. I don’t take sugar in my coffee normally but it just didn’t taste right. Next time I will know to give the bartender a dirty look or something.

    tiny banquet committee on

  • hey UMAMI!!!

    i just wanted to say i went to king spa in Nj and ummmmmmmit was liberating!!!…now im soft as a baby…we ate on Broad ave….not too far from the king sauna for some sooo dubu and it was AMAZING!!!…

    please tell me you were buck naked too!

    xppinkx on

  • wonderful, I want one now.

    Vanessa Bahmani on

  • Too many bartenders don’t know how to make an Irish coffee – they usually think it’s coffee plus Bailey’s. I do more than give dirty looks, I send it back.

    Actually, I’ve started asking first if the ’tender knows how to make one. If not, I tell them – sugar, whiskey, coffee, top with cream. For some reason most of them think this is just MY version, rather than the traditional, correct way.

    Another way to spot a poorly-trained bartender: they warm liquor in the microwave. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Anonymous on

  • Madeleine,
    Lol, I have no idea what the whole buck naked thing was about, but that’s kinda how I feel in this economy right now. I normally don’t take sugar in my tea and only sometimes in my coffee, but the Irish Coffee definitely needs at least one tsp of sugar since you’re adding the whiskey. Otherwise it’s almost deplorable.

    And I think you’re on to something w/the dirty look thing. I think if more bartenders got dirty looks they’d pay attention to what they’re doing!

    Paystyle on

  • The bartender at my hotel refuses to heat the liquor. His standard response involves some excuse about it being “too much work”.

    I think it’s the number one thing people leave out which is a shame because it stays hot so much longer.

    Japhet on

  • So funny and yet so true. I forgot about the ones that think it’s made with Baileys.

    Paystyle on

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