A quest for the best Irish Coffee in the world

An invitation to an exciting event was just what I needed to stir slowly from my summer holiday slumber.  The occasion was to include coffee from ubercoffeeguru David Donde and good whisky, so with a proverbial spring in my step I bounded down Buitenkant Street on a borrowed scooter, braving the gale-force south-easter wind.

The invitation from David was to create the world’s best Irish Coffee. But never mind the rules  (see the link to variations) and tradition, let’s see what we think works best. The “we” is a panel of writers, tasters, editors, noses etc, a good bunch and fairly well behaved sort of sometimes bunch involved in writing about and judging wine, food, whisky and coffee, who can be counted on to willingly spend a couple of hours in the pursuit of pleasure.  Folk like “Mash” Middleton, Neil Pendock , Fiona MacDonald and JP Rossouw. We experimented with normal filter coffee, americano and double espresso, used different whiskies, cream, foam and just when we thought we had the ultimate drink – David brought out variety of glasses, to further refine our creation.

So how did it all work? We started with what we knew: Irish Whiskey, the very popular Jameson’s; filter coffee, Truth’s Resurrection blend, with beans from Ethiopia, Brazil, India and Guatemala; float cream on top.  We replaced filter coffee with Americano, then espresso. Much better. Espresso the preference. Move through Bourbon – the outstanding Woodford Reserve, from Kentucky, America; the smoky, medicinal, delicious Ardbeg Whisky, from Islay, west coast of Scotland; the best blended whisky in the world from 2012, Three Ships Premium Select, from Wellington, just outside Cape Town; the very popular newcomer to the spirits scene, Jack Daniels Honey liqueur, from Tennessee, America; the always excellent sherried cask single malt – The Macallan 12 – from the Scottish Highlands.

Quite surprising for a tasting panel, there was pretty much uniformity amongst the panelists. The scores and views were pretty similar and consensus was the watchword. Basically you have got a bunch of people who know a bit about good food, wine, whisky etc who have taken the trouble – yes, such a difficult job:) – and we have worked out what’s best for you. But experiment, please, when you are at home, use different whiskies, play around, half the fun is in the journey.

What worked well – the Woodford, the Jack Honey, then the Three Ships. What did not work too well were the Jameson’s (but try it with the 12 year old) and the Ardbeg. Sigh, yes, I can hear you, I also thought the Ardbeg would be great, but it is better in a glass in my hand sitting beside a roaring fire.

The winner – by quite a way – was The Macallan 12. In a brandy snifter.  The result is a balanced drink, showing off the qualities of the ingredients in something that tastes delicious.   The whisky gets most of its flavour from the Sherry Casks it rests in, and after 12 years, it has the complexity needed to balance the myriad of flavours coming from the coffee.

This is not going to be an average priced Irish. It can’t be and with the whisky going for something like R 50 per tot the drink may end up between R 75 and R 100. But try it and see if you like it.  I do.

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