I made this stunning (?) discovery last summer during a trip to Ireland. We’d stopped at Slane Castle to look over their distillery. They served us some Irish coffee, and I found myself liking it way more than the Irish coffee I’ve had in the United States. This experience was repeated at other stops in Ireland, which led me to my perhaps not stunning conclusion that Irish coffee is better in Ireland.

The reason for the superiority of Irish coffee when served in the land of its birth is due in part to the fact that in Ireland, they seem to regularly use real cream rather than commercial whipped cream. I’ve been eating Reddi-Whip for years, and this well-known product does contain real cream, but it also contains corn syrup, nonfat milk, carrageenan and other additives that seem to diminish the richness of natural cream. In Ireland, they’re more likely to top the coffee with a pour of real cream (you know, from cows), which floats on top of the coffee. This natural cream is better than any canned and aerosolized product – its richness balances the aggressiveness of the spirit – and it also makes the beverage easier to drink.

Another reason why Irish coffee tastes better in Ireland is that the Irish have access to a lot of outstanding whiskey. According to the Irish Whiskey Association, Ireland, specifically Dublin, was once the “global powerhouse of whiskey production.” But Irish whiskey took a big hit during Prohibition, going from about thirty distilleries at the end of the nineteenth century to two or three near the end of the twentieth century. Today, Irish whiskey is the world’s fastest-growing brown spirit category, still behind Scotch and bourbon but gaining ground. There were twenty-five whiskey distilleries in Ireland in 2019, with about that same number opening soon or in the planning stages. There is now a lot of excellent whiskey being produced in Ireland, and some of it is coming from Slane Castle.

Alex, Ninth Earl of Conyngham, and co-founder of Slane Distillery, walked us around his family’s old estate, and explained that when they were building the distillery, they had to negotiate with some local fairy folks to make sure it was okay with them to build on land that the fairies themselves occupied. The fairies, according to Alex, said that the distillery could be built as long as the Conyngham family provided a refuge for the fairies. Fearing retribution from these ancient Irish residents, the Conynghams created a space for the fairies where they could live in peace. Or so we were told.

Ireland is the source for excellent Irish whiskey and also, of course, a lot of blarney.

On January 25, you can celebrate National Irish Coffee Day with a simple cup of joe, some real cream, and a splash of Irish whiskey. When you go shopping for Irish whiskey, keep in mind that there are many brands out there besides favorites like Old Bushmills and Jameson’s. Many of the old names – like Teeling, Kilbeggan and Slane – are coming back big time, and they’re well worth a try, either neat or in a cup of Joe…with real cream.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...