Saturday 9th April at the Truman Brewery in East London, in the now-traditional humid atmosphere of multi-level coffee fandom, with queues stretching past seven decades of vintage gear on Brick Lane, there runs a happy current of booze and competitive mixing at The London Coffee Festival. The expectation is high each year—coffee folk know plenty about flavor—and the end result is a bevy of distinct, unique one-off drinks you're unlikely to find anywhere else. Below are a few tipples that we thoroughly enjoyed, with recipes to boot:
Bulleit Bourbon x The Gentlemen Baristas
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey spent a year working on the original barrel-rested coffee featured in their cocktails at London Coffee Festival, served solo and hot at the other end of the bar by award-winning dapper chaps The Gentlemen Baristas. Two versions were created: The Gatsby, a filter roast from Cuacacayo in Colombia and The Trucker, the espresso offering from Los Hernandez in El Salvador. Both sets of green beans rested here in London for fourteen days in bourbon casks from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Kentucky, then went for a quick “bespoke” bake courtesy of The Roastery Department.
Bulleit Brand Ambassador Andrea Montague created two cocktails for the respective roast profiles: ‘Rested and Zested’ made with the Trucker espresso, orange, quince and dark chocolate and ‘The Gentlemen’s Agreement’ using the cooled filter coffee, which was as beautifully balanced as any cocktail I’ve ever had made by a knowledgeable barkeep. Fragrant, a little delicate spice and tea-like flavour from the bourbon-stained brew, with a soft, nutty, coconut accent to round it all out. This one was a real highlight at the festival.
– 35ml Bulleit bourbon
- 80ml Gatsby Filter – brewed hot, then chilled
– 20ml roasted coconut and nutmeg syrup
– One drop orange blossom water
Shake with ice, pour over a few cubes and grate a little nutmeg to finish.
Mr. Black is a contemporary take on coffee liqueur, made in 300-bottle batches at their distillery in New South Wales. In the world of coffee liqueur, Mr. Black offer a notably progressive take thanks to their attention to the coffee base ingredient, made from a blend of specialty-grade beans from Ethiopia, Brazil and Papua New Guinea. Mr. Black blend a concentrated cold-brewed extraction of this coffee with a vodka-like grain spirit, and the results have been much lauded. Designer Tom Baker and distillery-owner Philip Moore established the company in 2012 with a fast-track success story; early on the company won a gold medal at the London International Wine and Spirits competition with their “coffee liqueur for coffee purists”.
Mr. Black's booth on the upper level of the festival was surrounded by keen midday drinkers, and the brand was featured in cocktails around the site. Founder Tom Baker was tipping dark booze into cups and serving it straight up, also infusing the liqueur into a resulting negroni by passing the alcohol through citrus peel in a water dripper brewer. “All the flavour comes from the coffee,” he says. The black liquid alone is lightly syrupy with a concentrated cacao and nut brittle sweetness. The coffee flavour is dark and none too bitter.
I asked Baker for his ideal serving suggestion: “glass, ice, finger stir, Downton Abbey.”
20ml Mr. Black
10ml sweet vermouth
Stir with ice. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a twist.
Ground Coffee x Crumbs and Doilies
Ground Coffee, based in South London, hit upon a sweet (soz) idea for the fest: a collaboration with their wholesale client Jemma Wilson and her stunning cake store Crumbs & Doilies. The results wound up being one of the most surprising and enjoyable drinks served at the Artisan Bar, a section hosting a changing lineup of roasters and cafes. With the addition of a chocolate orange ganache, Ground and Jemma Wilson created a delightfully and modestly sweet boozy offering, served hot with a tiny, pillowy cupcake. If I lived in the US, I would swap eggnog out for this pronto come Christmas.
A little backstory: for us in the UK, a Terry’s Chocolate Orange used to be quite a classic gift, a fun trip to peel away the crispy orange foil for a fake (brown) orange split into segments and allegedly shared. Terry’s chocolate orb hasn’t aged well—it’s seen as a little kitsch these days—but it remains a consistently delicious product with a fun history. This cocktail riff on the classic takes espresso, Maker's Mark, chocolate orange ganache and steamed milk. No frills, no sprigs or shaking—we truly enjoyed this drink poured like a potent piccolo.
Single shot of espresso Squirt of Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache (1 part hot water, 1 part chocolate) 25ml Maker’s Mark Muddled, topped with steamed whole milk to 5oz capacity – serve hot.
Single shot of espresso
Squirt of Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache (1 part hot water, 1 part chocolate)
25ml Maker’s Mark
Muddled, topped with steamed whole milk to 5oz capacity – serve hot.
Still more cocktails! Special mentions from the fest:
The Starbucks stand brewed literally buckets of espresso to make hundreds of flat white and espresso martinis for their collaboration with Baileys. Mostly milk, there was little Starbucks taste in the mix but the setup was grand: imagine two full bars and a cart dishing out cocktails on two levels. Everywhere we turned, the waft of Baileys.
Local restaurant Hawksmoor in Spitalfields served up Erin’s Coffee, an icy Vietnamese-style coffee slushie created by Ali Reynolds, Bar Manager and cocktail master. Using a slushie machine, this drink starts with ice blended with light, burnt-toffee Kernel Brewery Export India Porter, Mr. Black liqueur, Small Batch Coffee Co. espresso syrup, cream liqueur and condensed milk. The result were earthy caramel, boozy not-too-sweet icy mounds of refreshing coffee slush. The drink will be served at the downstairs bar at Hawksmoor on Commercial Street, intending to mix digestif and dessert functions. Reynolds calls it a “frozen margarita meets Irish coffee” and intends to serve it on bar “forever.”
London cold coffee company Sandows—arguably the first to bring regular and Nitro cold brew to these Isles—made the best Martini variation of the day, a shot of simple syrup spiked with vanilla blended with vodka and a creamy Brazilian coffee on nitro, roasted by Assembly. Sandows served this gem up on draught for the foamy head of a classic espresso martini.
Photos by Johnny Simpson for Sprudge.com.