Monday, March 13, 2006

The Flaming Joe

Saturday's Wall Street Journal kicks off St Patrick's Week with an account of the plausible revisionist history concerning who invented Irish Coffee. As the article (subs. req'd) explains, the standard account is well-known -- it was invented by Joe Sheridan at the Shannon Airport bar in the 1940s as a concoction to greet weary transatlantic travellers. But no, says the Journal -- it was probably invented at the Dolphin Bar in Dublin:

The contrarian account can be found buried in an essay by John V. Kelleher, professor of Irish studies at Harvard from 1952 to 1986. Just after World War II, Kelleher visited Ireland and some literary pals took him to the pub at a hotel called The Dolphin in Dublin's Temple Bar neighborhood. "The Dolphin, I was told, was where Irish coffee had been invented," Kelleher wrote later. "The proprietor, Michael Nugent, had concocted it during the war as a way of disguising what was then called coffee. In 1946 its chief merit was the interesting difficulty of floating the cream onto but not into the liquid."

As the article goes on to note, the addition of the cream (and keeping it on top) is really the key trick, because otherwise it's just a variant on the hot whiskey, but the cream serves an important wartime rationing purpose -- camouflaging the flavour of the bad coffee that was the only thing available in Ireland when the tea routes were shut down during WW2.

Further enraging the traditionalists, the story points out that the received wisdom of the popularisation of the drink in the USA is also dodgy; the attribution to Buena Vista in San Francisco does reflect a venue known for serving the drink, but:

it is not where the drink was first introduced in the States. That credit goes to the New York Herald Tribune. On St. Patrick's Day in 1948, the delightfully named Clementine Paddleford, for years the newspaper's popular and influential food writer, suggested that her readers try Irish Coffee, "the traditional Gaelic drink as served to passengers in the lounge at Shannon Airport." She thanked Pan American hostess Maureen Grogan for getting her the recipe: "Place two tablespoons of Irish whisky in a warm glass, add one teaspoon sugar, pour in the hot coffee and float two inches of whipped cream," Paddleford wrote. "Sip and the whisky laces through coffee, through cream."

And of course it's plausible that a New York reporter would have run into a Pan Am hostess who had seen it being made. Now, one thing left unmentioned in the account is the question of what whiskey to use in an Irish coffee. Would you put the Bushmills 12 year old in there?

No comments: