Having recently become a Sonomanid, that is to say, a resident of burgeoning winetown Sonoma, CA, I am frequently pointed to aspects of our town’s authentic experience. When a comely young EMT from the welcoming committee tested my Sonoma mettle asking if I’d ever had a Glariffee, my first inclination was to say coyly “Not yet” and undo my belt. Fortunately, I embarrassed neither of us, but was left with the mystery of the Glariffee percolating in my mind. Until today. Assisted by Mr. Ferguson, I hobbled to the historic Swiss Hotel, which has loomed over the north side of the Square since the Bear Republic. There, I was told, lurked the Glariffee.
Lo, the Glariffee – sounds like something that crawled through looking glass of a Lewis Carroll poem to gyre and gimble in the wabe. You can trade your vorpal sword for a thin red straw as we discovered that the Glariffee – at least in name – is simply an abbreviated amalgam of GLAZED-IRISH-COFFEE. That much we now know. The actual ingredients of the Glariffee, however, remain a secret family recipe known only to 92 year-old Swiss Hotel proprietress Helen Dunlap.
“My grandmother makes it in gallon batches,” said manager and fourth generation hotelier Kristin Dunlap, when I chanced an impromptu interview. “She is the sole person who knows what’s in it.”
Rumor has it that the elder Dunlap makes the concoction in her bathtub. Moreover, the nonagenarian has yet to share her secret recipe with any of her descendents, which begs the rather rude question, “Does she plan to take it with her?”
“We don’t know,” young Dunlap replied wistfully, then added, when prodded to conjecture what the Glariffee might contain: “‘Glariffee’ is the actual syrup, we add Powers whiskey to it and a little water, shake it up and pour it in a tall chilled glass. It’s like an Irish coffee that’s chilled.”
Dunlap’s grandfather Ted invented the Glariffee with the owner of the Buena Vista, a San Francisco haunt known for its Irish coffees.
“He said ‘Well, you know, I love the Irish coffees, but sometimes you need a chilled drink,’ and that’s where it came from,” recalls Dunlap. “It’s the hallmark drink of the bar.”
Local lore claims that a son of novelist John Steinbeck actually named the cocktail, contending that “glariffee” is Gaelic for “cold,” which sounds suspiciously like something someone would say after having a few.