Does The Quality Of Your Whiskey Matter For Irish Coffee? We Asked An Expert

Whether you're looking for a sweet but boozy way to end a meal or a way to warm up from the inside on a chilly day, an Irish coffee can be the perfect hot tipple to sip. For those not in the know, the simple drink traditionally combines steamy coffee with rich brown sugar and smooth whiskey, all topped with whipped cream.

While there are variations that use different types of sugar (demerara is popular), incorporate additional liqueurs like Bailey's Irish Cream or nutty Frangelico, or have added expert-approved toppings like spices and syrups, one ingredient in the coffee remains the same — whiskey. But if you're mixing it with sweet ingredients and bold coffee, does it really matter what kind of whiskey you use? To find out, we went straight to an expert — Chloe McMahon, Whiskey Educator for Proximo, a producer of half a dozen whiskeys, including Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey.

"While you can use any whiskey for Irish coffee, using a high-quality whiskey like Proper No. Twelve ensures a more enjoyable and flavorful experience," McMahon said. "The principle is similar to using good wine in cooking — quality ingredients elevate the final result."

High-quality Irish whiskey tends to be aged longer, so its flavors often mingle well with the other ingredients in an Irish coffee. While younger versions of the spirit can be light, fruity, or floral, more aged versions are nutty and leathery, pairing perfectly with coffee and balancing out the sweetness of the drink.

What to look for when purchasing whiskey for Irish coffee

You can certainly spike your sweetened coffee with any whiskey, but it should come as no surprise that for authentic Irish coffee, you'll want to use Irish whiskey. Enthusiasts of the drink point to the fact that Irish whiskey has a signature smoothness that makes the coffee-based beverage perfectly balanced.

When you're in the market for a high-quality whiskey to use in your Irish coffee, first use the color to guide you. A darker-colored Irish whiskey indicates a longer period of aging and is more likely to boast those rich flavors that will complement the coffee, sugar, and whipped cream. Also, look to the labels to help guide your decision on a flavor profile that works for you. If you're trying to add a bit of a zing to your drink, look for varieties that are described as "peppery." However, if you're searching for something a bit more subtle, "smooth" is a term to keep your eye out for.

Once you have found the perfect bottle, be sure to craft your coffee with care. Pair it with an equally high-quality coffee, of course — a dark roast will work best. And, for the freshest flavor, make your own whipped cream to top it off. For a thick whipped cream, you can gently add it to the top. Or use a lightly whipped version gently poured over a spoon for a classic presentation that's guaranteed to impress guests.