I’ve Perfected Irish Coffee Thanks To These 6 Steps From An Irish Bartender

There’s a cliché that says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” It follows, then, that “When in Ireland, do as the Irish do.”

That’s why our trip to Ireland was the ideal place to learn how to make the perfect Irish coffee. Our instructor for this important mixology endeavor was an experienced bartender in a historic Irish fishing lodge, built in the 1800s. Could there be a better teacher or a better location?

Because we love to bike and Ireland was a bucket list destination, my husband Dean and I signed up for a VBT biking vacation called Ireland: Galway & Connemara Coast with great expectations. We had traveled with VBT before on their Maine biking trip to Acadia National Park and their Slovenia, Austria, and Italy biking trip. We loved them both.

Lough Inagh, Connemara
Lough Inagh, Connemara

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

On the Ireland trip, we did the pre-trip extension in Cork, bused to the town of Ennis, and then to the spectacular Cliffs of Mohr. There, we started the actual biking tour in Lisdoonvarna, biked the rustic and beautiful Burren, enjoyed lively Galway, loved our ferry to an overnight stay on one of the Aran Islands and back again, and then biked north into Connemara for a two-night stay along Lough (Lake) Inagh for the finale of the biking portion of the trip.

The whole area of ​​Connemara is enchanting, like a storybook.

The setting of the Lough Inagh Lodge
The dramatic mountainous setting of the Lough Inagh Lodge

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

Our lodging in Connemara was the picturesque Lough Inagh Lodge, set between the Twelve Ben and Maumturk mountain ranges. To no one’s surprise, it looks just like an 1800s Irish lodge should look, with its stately presence and moody skies.

From their website: “Lough Inagh Lodge was built on the shores of Lough Inagh in 1880. It was part of the Martin Estate (Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin of Ballynahinch Castle) as one of its fishing lodges. It was later purchased by Richard Berridge, a London brewer who used the building as a fishing lodge in the 1880s. It passed through the hands of the Tennent family, and then to Carroll Industries until 1989 when it was redeveloped by the O’Connor family back to its former glory into a modern bespoke boutique lodge.”

A closer view of the Lough Inagh Lodge
A closer view of the Lough Inagh Lodge

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

The lodge just looks like the kind of place that has a story behind it, and it does! This place had charm from beginning to end, from the ivy-lined exterior to the elegant sitting rooms and staterooms. It was here that we learned how to make the perfect Irish coffee.

As a standard part of their biking trip itineraries, VBT plans various cultural and local events to make their biking trips memorable. One night after dinner at the lodge, our biking group of 16 people (aged 16 to 70-something) gathered in one of the sitting rooms near the front of the lodge.

Unlike other times we had gathered here, this time we saw a table with various bowls, pitchers, ice buckets, and at first glance, another substance I wasn’t sure of. However, the glasses on the table were a giveaway. They were made of clear glass with a short, squat stem to the wide base and a handle. Hmmm… Irish coffee mugs.

We had two wonderful VBT guides on this trip. They directed us to sit down in the room’s comfortable sofas, lounge chairs, and high-backed tapestry chairs (the room was right out of a movie) and that’s when we learned that VBT had arranged for the Lodge bartender — a man full of personality and quick-witted — to show us the fine art of making the perfect Irish coffee (how I wish I had caught his first name!).

How To Make The Perfect Irish Coffee

While the bartender usually mixed up these popular beverages in the bar of the Lough Inagh Lodge, they had turned the sitting room into a classroom for our VBT biking tour group, with everything set up for us to see exactly how it’s done. The bartender explained and demonstrated the step-by-step process, and we watched him perform each of the six steps with ease.

Now, I’m sharing these six steps with you. There’s nothing hard about them! However, do yourself a favor and say each step with a thick Irish brogue.

1. Chill The Glass

The first thing the bartender did was pour ice water into an Irish coffee glass. These first two steps are very important and should not be skipped.

2. Wait Half A Minute

He let the ice water sit in the glass for 20-30 seconds — no shortcuts allowed — and then dumped it out.

3. Add The Secret Ingredient

This is the step that surprised me. Traditional Irish coffee — whiskey and coffee, right? Not so fast! Here’s where the bartender added the unexpected and secret ingredient. He measured out one tablespoon packed of light brown sugar and put it in the bottom of the chilled glass. Who knew?

4. Pour In The Coffee And Stir

Next, he poured in already brewed, hot coffee. Then, he took a spoon and stirred the coffee vigorously until the brown sugar dissolved (it only took a minute or two).

Bushmills whiskey
The bartender’s brand of choice: Bushmills

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

5. Add The Whiskey

Next up, Irish whiskey. He told us to add our favorite brand of whiskey, to taste. The bartender used the Bushmills brand of Original Irish Whiskey, and in his endearing way, he may or may not have used a heavy hand in pouring the whiskey.

6. The Finishing Touch

Lastly, the finishing touch was to top the Irish coffee with decadent whipped cream, which got sort of melty and luscious in the hot drink.

Drink Up

After our expert tutorial (I suspect he’s done this a few times), the bartender handed his freshly mixed concoction to someone in our group, and then he invited us to step up and move around the table to make one of our own. There were plenty of glasses and “supplies.”

So, our group stepped up to make our creations, about four or five of us at a time. Who can resist (other than my husband)?

I joined the table circuit and mixed one up. Ice water first, then wait, brown sugar next, coffee, then stir. Add the whiskey, and then top it off with an ample dollop of whipped cream. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Each of us followed the steps under the bartender’s careful and expert guidance (and humor).

When everyone who wanted to make one had done so, we relaxed and chatted about the highlights of the biking trip so far (there were many!) and drank our masterpieces. Learning how to make a perfect Irish coffee from an Irish bartender is a great example of the cultural touches that make a VBT trip so much fun.

Bartender making an Irish cofee
Bartender making an Irish cofee

Photo credit: Eugene Symonenko / Shutterstock.com

Practice Makes Perfect

Our biking trip in Ireland was memorable for many reasons, and I loved this lesson on the finer points of making a perfect Irish coffee from an experienced, colorful Irish bartender who’s been mixing these things up for years.

Whether you ever visit Ireland or not (but I hope you do!), now you can replicate these six easy steps at home and mix up an authentic Irish coffee whenever you’d like. Then, diligently work on it until your technique is perfected. Practice makes perfect, you know. Slient (cheers), my friend!