Back in 2009, I had the honor of being invited to a Christmas party hosted by a notable Irishman who was living in Tokyo.
I had recently written an article about Irish coffee for the newspaper. When the topic came up, the notable Irishman very pleasantly opined that the concoction was a terrible waste of perfectly fine whiskey. Nonetheless, he immediately had his kitchen staff prepare a glass for me. That’s how gracious a host he was.
Irish coffee, by the way, is a cocktail consisting of strong hot coffee with sugar and whiskey, plus a layer of cream floating on top. It was apparently invented in the early 1940s to warm up transatlantic passengers landing at Shannon Airport. It was more of a treat for tourists than something the Irish drink regularly themselves.
As I drank the delicious glass he had arranged for me, the notable Irishman regaled me with a story from another party he had thrown some years earlier while living in the United States. One his guests that evening was a famous American who, when offered a glass of Irish coffee, requested that it be made with decaffeinated coffee and nonfat cream.
“Would you like it with alcohol-free whiskey, too?” the notable Irishman helpfully inquired.
“Sure!” the famous American beamed, before suspicion dawned. “Hey, wait a minute…”
Well, time marches on, and now Japanese technology has made a commercial reality out of the Irishman’s absurd joke. There is now nonalcoholic Irish coffee … in a can.
Japan has what is almost certainly the world’s most creative canned beverage industry. After enjoying such unlikely flavor triumphs as adzuki-bean Pepsi and canned pancake milkshakes, I was very much looking forward to their take on Irish coffee.
However, I was a bit crestfallen when I realized that there is no actual whiskey in this product. Instead, it is “whiskey-flavored.”
Somehow, it does give off some alcohol-like fumes, but the flavor is more like hazelnut syrup than whiskey. The cream and sugar flavors nearly overwhelm the coffee flavor, so the final result is like drinking a liquefied hazelnut bonbon.
I respect the Japanese beverage industry’s spirit of experimentation, but if I were to drink a toast to that spirit, I’d rather use real Irish coffee.