Gary O'Neil
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The Field Irish Pub and Restaurant

544 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

The Irish are fond of their liquor and fond of it in its purest, simplest forms — a pint of Guinness, three swallows of John Powers whiskey, or even a dram of the Poteen (Eire’s high-octane pot still moonshine). That’s how the Field’s old-sod bartender Gary O’Neil sees it, anyway. With 16 years of tending to tap and cork — stretching across the Atlantic to his college days in Ireland — O’Neil’s not shy about saying how things stand between the Irish and cocktails. “The best whiskey we have here is Middleton Rare,” he explains during a slowdown on a Thursday afternoon at the Field. “It’s an exclusive sipping whiskey. You wouldn’t want to be putting it in an Irish coffee. I suppose if someone asked for one, I’d let them do it themselves. Better they have the guilt on their own souls.” Still, O’Neil knows a man has to make a living, so he did offer me the Field’s own version of Irish coffee. But even this cocktail pays obeisance to Irish simplicity — standing in its glass tall and black with a crown of white, like a knock-off of stout. The arguments are fierce about who first introduced Irish coffee this side of Galway Bay, but there’s no debating that its inventor, the late Joseph Sheridan, a barkeep at the now-defunct Foynes Airport, County Limerick, created the drink in the 1930s as a double-warmer for frozen passengers deplaning from flying boats. For O’Neil, though, it’s not who first made it that matters most, but how it’s made at the Field. “It should be fresh,” he says. “You don’t want the coffee sitting around in the pot for awhile or to be using old cream. The customers might drink it that way, but they won’t come back for another.”

Kitchen proof: The sugar and whiskey together tame the bitter coffee bite while preserving — even through the soft sell of cream — the whiskey’s peaty provocations.

In a traditional Irish coffee glass mug pour:

  • 1¼ oz. Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Fresh black coffee
  • Fresh cream whipped with “just a tad” of granulated sugar to sweeten.

Stir brown sugar and whiskey at bottom until dissolved, add coffee, top off with a cloud-nine-sized dollop of fresh cream and finish off with a gesture of powdered chocolate.

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