The Irish coffee was invented in the 1940s near Shannon, Ireland, and made the leap to the United States in the 1950s, when the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco made it famous. The drink then swiftly showed up in restaurants around the nation, but the full story of its rise is complicated and contentious, involving competing claims of airport bartenders and Irish publicans, and disputes over cream versus whipped cream. Too much to get into here.
But know this: The piping-hot concoction of coffee, cream, and Irish whiskey would soon collide with another drink trend, and to the good fortune of all. Ice cream blender drinks hit their stride in the seventies and eighties, a time when classic cocktails were dismissed as dull and stodgy. Bartenders decided that every drink could be upgraded with a blender and a scoop or two of ice cream.
And so came the Cognac Creme Freeze, the White Monkey, the Pink Macaroon, and Scarlett’s Comfort, the last of which featured Southern Comfort, blackberry brandy, cranberry juice, blueberries, and ice cream. (Do not try this at home unless you are a licensed mixologist.) The ice cream cocktail phase is not considered one of the high points in modern bartending. In any event, a more health-conscious era soon rushed in, and consumers migrated en masse to white wine spritzers and lite beer, leaving boozy milkshakes behind.
With one noteworthy exception: the frozen Irish coffee.
Popular lore ascribes the invention of the frozen Irish coffee to Jim Monaghan Sr., the proprietor of multiple French Quarter bars in New Orleans, notably Molly’s at the Market, where the frozen Irish first appeared in the 1980s. When the Erin Rose, another of Monaghan’s bars, installed a slushy machine in 2000, frozen Irish coffee entered the machine and essentially never left.
Monaghan died in 2001, but his drink has long outlived its creator. It’s even developed a near-cult status thanks in large part to the hordes of cocktail apprentices who swarm the city most summers to sling drinks at the massive Tales of the Cocktail conference, and who have come to rely on the whiskey jolt and coffee boost between shifts. (If the slushy machine were to break down, it’s assumed the conference would face considerable peril.)
One of the splendors of the drink is that it invites riffs. Nickel City, a neo–dive bar in Austin, Texas, offers its Almost Famous Frozen Irish Coffee, made with Tullamore D.E.W. and a proprietary cream blend. Bon Ton, a Viet-Cajun joint in Atlanta, serves a Vietnamese frozen Irish coffee, with whiskey, coffee brandy, sweetened condensed milk, and chicory coffee.
But one needn’t trifle with perfection. And you needn’t own a slushy machine—just a blender and a willingness to abandon any diet you may have agreed to in a moment of weakness. Made right, the frozen Irish coffee offers minor stimulation and an impressive if temporary relief from the Southern summer. Go-cup optional.