Iced Coffee Spiked With Whiskey Is James Beard-Approved

As the host of the first televised cooking show ever in America ("I Love to Eat" which aired on NBC from 1946 to 1947), James Beard definitely knew a thing or two about good eating and drinking. Given his championing of American cuisine – which, to him, was made up of the food and experiences of its diverse citizenry — it should come as no surprise that he gave Ireland's signature coffee drink his stamp of approval. In fact, instructions for how to make Beard's "Chilled Irish Coffee" first appeared in the June 1973 issue of House & Garden.


If you've ever had traditional Irish coffee before, right off the bat you'll see where he innovated on the original drink: Instead of serving it hot, he opted to chill it by adding ice. This small change alone makes Beard's version a superb choice for brunch by transforming the slowly sipped hot tipple into a crushable and creamy iced beverage, especially when the heat of the day would naturally make a warmer drink less appealing to gulp down. But the deeper you delve into how this concoction is made, the more changes you'll find that make it truly one of a kind.

How James Beard's chilled Irish coffee differs from the original

Traditional Irish coffee uses whiskey and sugar-sweetened hot black coffee as the base, topped with a float of lightly whipped cream. This gives you a drink that retains much of the coffee's bold roasted taste. James Beard did it differently: His take calls for mixing some cream directly into freshly brewed, sweetened coffee, yielding a lighter (yet still richly flavored) drink.


With the main components combined, the cream and coffee mixture gets chilled before the cocktail is made. This way, the ice doesn't melt too quickly and water it down. Plus, since it's a cold beverage, this part can be prepped a few hours ahead of time.

When crafting this version, Beard started by adding a layer of whipped cream to the bottom of the glass along with the ice. A splash of liquor (preferably Irish whiskey) came next (rather than combining it with hot coffee as in the original), followed by the chilled creamy coffee mix and a second layer of whipped cream. As a final touch, the culinary expert recommended grating nutmeg or cinnamon over the top. The triple-punch of cream is how Beard-style Irish coffee takes the drink in a decidedly brunch-friendly direction.


Is Irish whiskey really a must?

While Irish whiskey will give you the most authentic flavor, feel free to use what works best for you. If you don't have Irish whiskey, straight bourbon is a perfectly fine substitute. Just keep in mind that your Irish coffee will taste a little different than what you'd get at bars and cafes. Bourbon has a more pronounced sweetness due to the ingredient that it's primarily made from: corn. The drink, as a result, may end up even sweeter. If you like your cocktails on the strong-tasting side, you may want to go easier on the sugar and cream. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is made from barley, so it's going to have more of a spicy punch to it.


For those who like their coffee with some zing but don't have Irish whiskey on hand, rye whiskey (which is different from bourbon) is a nice option. This variety is famous for its strong, spice-packed flavor.

Scotches are also good substitutes, but you should only use non-peated bottlings for the best result. The smoky flavors of peated scotch whiskies can detract from the other ingredients in the drink. Just note that when you use scotches, don't call it an Irish coffee — it'd be a Scottish coffee!