This toasty cocktail comes with a shot of history—and improvisation.
Whatever it is you're toasting, Irish coffee fits the occasion. Originally created in Ireland more than 60 years ago to warm up the weary, this bracing drink traditionally contains coffee, sugar, whiskey, and cream. But ask any bartender and you'll find more ways to mix one than rhymes in a bawdy limerick.
Glass Normally served in a tall glass mug with a handle, Irish coffee also shows up in the occasional wineglass. Some bars, like Fado Irish Pub, heat the glass first.
Sugar A teaspoon or two of brown sugar may be traditional, but even San Francisco's Buena Vista Cafe—credited with bringing the drink across the pond—uses white sugar cubes.
Alcohol Purists shudder at the thought of using anything other than good Irish whiskey. But Baileys is a frequent addition, and, as John McCormack of the British Bulldog says, "Coffee with Jameson and Baileys is what 80 percent of the people expect."
Coffee House drip coffee is standard, but Solera will serve it with a caffè Americano if you ask.
Cream An Irish coffee wouldn't be the same without that signature float of cream. But should it whipped or not? Sweetened or not? Handmade or not? Unadorned or not? At Strings, the whip is gussied up with a touch of Kahlúa and Triple Sec, while other spots drizzle crème de menthe, a popular but heretical treat.
Uses brown sugar and whipped cream. 2500 E. First Ave., 303-399-5353
Fado Irish Pub "Crème de menthe doesn't make an Irish coffee," says bartender Kai Stamer. 1735 19th St., 303-297-0066
Bartender Sarah Overbeck mixes the brown sugar and whiskey before adding coffee, "because it keeps the flavors you want together," she says. 1201 E. Colfax Ave., 303-839-1394
My Brother's Bar
Uses white sugar and Irish coffee mugs. 2376 15th St., 303-455-9991
British Bulldog Pub
Adds Baileys to the standard drink. 2052 Stout St., 303-295-7974
Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery
Dribbles crème de menthe on top of the whipped cream for decoration. 4700 Cherry Creek Drive South, 303-759-0333
Blends whiskey with Saint Brendan's Irish Cream and Café Bohême. 5410 E. Colfax Ave., 303-388-8429
Uses equal parts Jameson and Baileys. 523 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001
Finishes a traditional drink with fancy whip. 1700 Humboldt St., 303-831-7310