The whiskey, made and aged in Ireland, is matured in bourbon barrels, then finished off with some time in wine barrels that have been used to age Concannon Vineyard’s flagship petite sirah wine. “Because of the unique barrel finishing in the distilling process, Concannon has a complexity and character all its own, making for a one-of-a-kind Irish coffee experience,” Concannon said via email.
Though it seems likely that people have been introducing a drop or two of whiskey into coffee for a while, the drink as a cocktail was popularized in Ireland at the Foynes port, precursor to Shannon Airport, in the 1940s when chef Joe Sheridan decided to pep up some coffee with Irish whiskey to cheer chilly travelers. The drink was much appreciated and one of the passengers is said to have asked, “Was that Brazilian coffee?” Sheridan jokingly answered, “No, that was Irish Coffee,” and a tradition was born.
San Francisco newspaperman Stanton Delaplane tried the coffee while flying from Shannon Airport in 1952 and on his return got together with Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, to recreate the drink. The trickiest part was getting the cream to float on top, something that was solved by whipping the cream just a bit, then pouring it carefully over the back of a spoon into the cup.
St. Patrick’s Day has a special resonance for Concannon since his great-grandfather and winery founder, James Concannon, was born on March 17 in the Aran islands off the coast of Ireland. The winery, based in the Livermore Valley region east of San Francisco, will be celebrating this year with traditional, live Irish music and a toast (with wine) to their founder.
And they’ll be busy at the Buena Vista, too. Last year, thirsty revelers sucked down 3,640 Irish coffees.