If you’ve ever tried to order a coffee cocktail in a nice bar, you may have heard the question, “ A coffee cocktail or The Coffee Cocktail?” This is just your bartender trying to be cheeky. The Coffee Cocktail actually doesn’t contain any coffee at all, and dates back to the famed, revered, essential Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, first printed in 1887. The cocktail is mostly port and brandy balanced out with sugar and a whole egg, which actually makes it a “flip” in the bartending parlance.
Now more than ever, this bit of behind-the-bar semi-snark – “A coffee cocktail or THE Coffee Cocktail?” – is increasingly out of place in the high-end cocktail world. The specialty beverage industry is rapidly growing to cater to niche markets and specialty libations, and focusing heavily on source materials of the very highest available quality. As leaps and bounds have been made in the quality coffee world over the last decade, well-heeled bartenders are taking notice; quite a few successful and reputable coffee bars that are serving exclusively single origin espressos, and using coffee in various forms – bitters, cold brew, espresso, even manual brewed coffee – as a key component in delicious new drinks.
The so-called “speakeasy” cocktail bars in this day and age aren’t actually hush-hush at all, and the rebirth of the Golden Age of Cocktails has gained enormous amounts of hype and press and adulation. The role of the barista and the bartender has never been closer, and I've personally witnessed the talent pool of coffee service professionals being siphoned off by the financial, cultural, and creative lure of high-end cocktail service. It's happening in Seattle, in New York City, in New Orleans, and countless other places. This is a new reality: the craft bartender with specialty coffee training. I know this career path well.
These craft barista bartenders (Bartistas?) come with a special set of skills and draw from a diverse set of influences. The high-end coffee world has its own set of heroes, and cocktails are no different. Great coffee cocktails should seek to fuse these two worlds together, and make full use of the talents of this new generation of barista bartenders. Here's a few recipes I feel do our brave new world justice. Enjoy!
The Beccacino by Murray “The Blur” Stenson – Canon, Seattle
It is not an accident that the first recipe in this feature comes Murray Stenson, who is the best bartender in North America, a mentor to the world’s bartending community, and a certified cocktail icon. This drink has been around for roughly 30 years and is arguably the first craft coffee cocktail of its kind. As Mr. Stenson told Imbibe Magazine, “It’s an old Seattle bar recipe, But everyone who used to make it is either dead or in jail—or, you know, grew up and got a real job—so I’m about the only person making it anymore.”
The cocktail blends 1 oz of brandy, 1/2 oz Benedictine, 1/2 oz amaretto, 1/2 oz Irish Mist and 2 1/2 oz of chilled or cold brew coffee. Should you be making your own cold brew for this drink? Or should you pick up some tasty pre-made stuff from say, Stumptown if you're reading this in Seattle, or Slingshot if you're reading this in Durham? These are the kinds of questions bartenders ask themselves all the time, and coffee is just one more delicious element to consider, one more ingredient to carefully sort.
Built in a mixing glass and stirred. Strained into cocktail glass and topped with whipped cream. Thoroughly second wave, and totally delicious.
South of No North by Chris Langton – 1022 South, Tacoma
This cocktail achieves a beautiful balance while retaining delicate, yet complex sets of flavor. Mr. Langston recommends using an Ethiopian coffee for this drink, but play around with your favorite African and natural processed microlots to find the flavor you're dig the most. For more on 1022 South, one of the best cocktail bars in the Pacific Northwest, check out this feature in the New York Times from Sprudge.com co-founder Jordan Michelman.
Mr. Langston's recipe uses 1 1/2 oz reposado tequila, 1/2 oz of Cynar, 1/2 oz simple syrup and 1 oz of cold coffee with… *drum roll* a fresh egg white. I will give you bonus points if you substitute a fine mezcal for tequila, amaro Ramazzotti for Cynar, and some agave for simple syrup – this should class up the drink nicely, or at least give you an opportunity to nerd out about mezcal with your friends (this is pretty much my favorite activity BTW).
When working with egg whites or whole eggs, always do what bartender folks call a “dry-shake.” This helps emulsify the proteins of the egg and alcohol. A dry-shake contains no ice and is done as a preliminary shake before adding ice. Also, be sure to shake egg drinks slightly longer than a normal cocktail; this ensures a creamy drink texture, and makes the drink marginally safe(r) to consume
The Coffee Caipirinha by David Buehrer – Greenway Coffee, Blacksmith, Anvil, Houston
The caipirinha the national cocktail of Brazil, but it's become a kind of informal national cocktail of the craft bartending class. Your classic caipirinha features a spirit called Cachaça, a rum-like spirit made from fermented sugar cane juice. Mr. Buehrer's variation calls for a simple 24 hour infusion of Cachaça and fresh coffee beans – about 50g of coffee to 750ml of spirits should do nicely. I learned this variation on the Caipirinha from Houston-based cocktail afficiando / specialty coffee bar proprietor David Buehrer, while guest bartending at an excellent Houston cocktail bar called Anvil.
Once you've got your coffee Cachaça, now it's time to put it to good use. Rather than typing out instructions on how to make a Caipirinha, I'm going to just go ahead and post the video you see above. It was put together by Novo Fogo, makers of what I consider to be the best Cachaça in the North American market, and features some excellent Seattle bartenders sharing their tips and expertise.
The Coffee Grog by Jeff Berry – PK-NY, New York City
What's better than a perfect coffee cocktail? How about a perfect coffee cocktail on the beach! The Coffee Grog from PK-NY is the end all be all of tiki-style coffee cocktails. This drink (originally published by The New York Times) combines spiced rum with amaretto, cream, salted butter (!), and coffee sweetened with honey and infused with orange and grapefruit peels. Put that in your tiki mug, slather on some sunscreen, and repeat.
Revelator by Keith Waldbauer – Liberty Bar, Seattle
At the 2013 Northwest Regional Barista Competition, we knew we wanted to have a cocktail hour at Liberty. With the help of our partners at Caffe Ladro, EspressoParts, and Stumptown Coffee, we were able to create a custom menu of inexpensive craft cocktails and beer/liquor pairings. Among the cocktails, Keith Waldbauer's Revelator was a crowd favorite.
The cocktail calls for two ounces of Reposado tequila, a half ounce each of Amaro Averna and sweet vermouth, two dashes each of Bittermens Hellfire Bitters and barrel-aged Cinnamon Kumquat Bitters, and a handful of whole bean coffee (we used Caffe Ladro's Colombia La Plata). Stir and strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Top with a flamed orange garnish.
Untitled Drink #4
Published in “Toddy Cold Brewed: Simply Better Cocktails”
Here’s a simpler approach to a coffee cocktail made by some guy, somewhere, at some point, but published by the fine folks at Toddy in their “Toddy Cold Brewed: Simply Better Cocktails” guide. Here's the deets:
1 oz of Rye Whisk(e)y, 1 oz of Cold Brew coffee, 1 oz of Dolin Blanc Vermouth, 1/4 oz of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and a dash of Peychauds bitters. Stir and serve up in a cocktail glass with a thyme sprig garnish and lemon zest.
Alex Negranza is a longtime Seattle specialty coffee barista, USBC judge, and NWRBC competitor. While he still pulls the occasional coffee shift around town, he's best seen these days at the bar manager at Liberty, one of Seattle's best craft cocktail bars (and there are many). Mr. Negranza has written previously for Eater and Imbibe Magazine, and his cocktail work has been featured by The Seattle Times and Food & Wine, among others. Mr. Negranza has also worked previously for Sprudge.com as a special contributor, and his photo work anchored our 2012 USBC coverage from Portland.