8 coffee liqueurs perfect for fall cocktails

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We live in glorious times. Not only are espresso martinis back in a big way, but when it comes to coffee liqueurs, there are numerous well-crafted options where once there were a handful of core brands.

While there’s nothing wrong with the originals. Kahlua which first appeared in the U.S. in 1940 was a 2022 NY International Spirits Competition Silver Winner and is an excellent value for the money.

  Tia Maria which launched in 1950 was a Silver Winner in the 2021 NY International Spirits Competition. But there’s a new range of tantalizing options these days.

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When Australia’s Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur came on the scene in 2013, it ushered in the revival of the espresso martini and encouraged bartenders to push the envelope on incorporating coffee liqueur into cocktails.

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The Pleasures And Pitfalls Of Coffee Liqueur

If you’ve enjoyed an espresso martini or quaffed a black or white Russian, you’ve learned the pleasures and pitfalls of coffee liqueur. The effortless blending of sweet and acrid, the rich dark pleasure of coffee coupled with the mellowing nature of a (usually) lower-proof alcohol and the sometimes too easy-drinking nature of a sweet liqueur.

The core recipe is fairly straightforward: Infuse a base spirit with ground coffee or coffee beans (or add coffee extracts and flavorings), spice with vanilla, chicory or other highlights, and sweeten to taste, usually with a simple syrup. The true skills lie in developing the consistent balance you like in a shelf stable version. With so many options a coffee liqueur should taste like, well, coffee, according to Mr Black national brand ambassador Stephen Kurpinsky. “There are a lot that taste like coffee up front, but then transition into a lot of non-coffee flavors such as vanilla extract, caramels, molasses, chemicals, etc. Coffee has more flavor and aroma compounds than wine.”

It’s likely none of this would have happened without Kahlua paving the way and dominating the bar scene of the last half of the 20th century. Made in Mexico with rum, cane sugar, and 100 percent Arabica coffee beans grown in Veracruz, it’s still the number-one coffee liqueur in the world and still turning heads. It was the original coffee liquor used in cocktails such as the Black Russian and B-52. It’s part of the reason The Dude savored White Russians in the film “The Big Lebowski.”

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Beyond Kahlua

More recently, bartenders have been moving beyond the basic espresso martini and finding innovative spirits and mixers that work with coffee liqueurs.

“When I want to work with a specific ingredient, I think about complimentary flavor pairings,” says Lindsay Matteson, bar manager at Seattle’s The Walrus and The Carpenter. Prior to Seattle, she was a mainstay at New York’s Amor y Amargo bar, which specializes in cocktails highlighting digestifs and liqueurs.

Her drink Marlboro Man (recipe below) features smoky single malt Scotch, Amaro Abano, Punt e Mes, and Borghetti Espresso Liqueur, and was featured on the menu at the Mandarin Hide in St Petersburg, Florida. “It’s a classic ‘coffee and cigarettes’ flavor profile,” she says, “A little escapism and a throwback to a time when it was more common to see someone drinking coffee and smoking simultaneously. The Borghetti Espresso liqueur brings the whole thing together.”

For National Coffee Day we’ve rounded up the most intriguing coffee liqueurs to explore. Sip them neat, over ice (or ice cream), or blend into cocktails:

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1. Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur

This Australian liqueur launched in 2013, placing it in line with the cold brew and espresso martini trends happening, and allowing it to take the bartending world by storm. There are plenty of “cold brew” coffee liqueurs (longtime brand Tia Maria re-branded its existing liqueur as Tia Maria Cold Brew in 2020), so it would take more than that to make Mr Black the industry standard it’s become.

“Our master distiller, Philip Moore, had this insane idea at the time—to put real coffee in a coffee liqueur,” says Kurpinsky. “It’s a lot of coffee: ten times what goes into ‘old world’ coffee liqueurs. the results were not at all surprising to us: it was delicious. What makes Mr Black stand out is that we are coffee people.” In fact, co-founder Tom Baker describes himself as a “designer turned coffee snob.”

A blend of Australian wheat vodka and 100 percent specialty Arabica coffee (roasted in Australia), the neutral nature of vodka lets the coffee shine through in a way that rum or cognac might not, and the real coffee beans means it contains caffeine (perfect for a late-night pick-me-up). Like many of the better modern liqueurs, the brand prides itself on including no artificial flavors or colors. It also claims it uses half the sugar of the major coffee liqueurs, which manifests when you’re drinking it. With Mr Black you experience the rich, tangy bite of good coffee with just enough sweetness to keep you coming back for more. Bonus: the liqueur is certified kosher.

25% ABV, $40

In 2021, the brand zhuzhed things up with a new bottle design and the introduction of Mr Black Coffee Amaro, a bitter liqueur in the tradition of Italian after-dinner drinks. You’ll find hints of gentian, orange peel, local grapefruit and of course coffee. (28.5% ABV, $60). This year, the company also launched a special edition Mr Black, rested three months in ex-Bundaberg rum barrels for additional hints of raisin, brown sugar and dark chocolate (25% ABV, $60)

Image Credit: alcoholprofessor.com.

2. St. George Spirits NOLA Coffee Liqueur

Though based in the Bay Area, distiller Dave Smith was inspired by the New Orleans coffees he had enjoyed with his future wife (they met in the Big Easy). Like the dark, herbaceous and slightly sweet coffees found there, St George NOLA Coffee Liqueur features roasted French chicory in the blend along with Ethiopian coffee beans, Madagascar vanilla, and organic cane sugar.

“Like many of our iconic spirits at St. George, NOLA Coffee Liqueur wasn’t created simply to compete in a category,” says Smith. It’s less sweet than many similar liqueurs, and highlights the nutty, sharp complexity of a great cup of coffee. “Instead,” he continues, “NOLA is inspired by a time and place.” Like Mr. Black, it’s also got a slightly higher alcohol content than the traditional coffee liqueurs, allowing it to stand up nicely in non-dessert cocktails as well as traditional espresso martinis. Smith and his wife particularly enjoy what the brand dubs a Hall & Oates: equal parts St George NOLA Coffee Liqueur and Fernet Branca. Stir with ice and serve neat in a coupe glass.

$35, 25% ABV

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3. J.F. Haden’s Espresso Liqueur

The third release from Miami’s new Tropical Distillers, this liqueur is meant to celebrate the importance of coffee to Cuban culture. Inspired by the Colada, a strong Cuban espresso shot topped with espumita (sugar foam), the drink is a social one, meant to be shared. The espresso is made with a distinctive cold Cuban espresso system from locally roasted Arabica beans. Tropical Distiller’s own spirit and natural sweeteners are blended with the coffee, but there are no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The result is a low-alcohol but high flavor liqueur with an emphasis on the coffee. “We wanted to bottle that taste up so that the most popular coffee drink of the Magic City can be enjoyed worldwide,” Tropical Distillers CEO Buzzy Sklar said in a press release announcing the launch. It’s brand new and only just hitting shelves now in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Tennessee and Georgia. The plan is to expand distribution by the end of the year.

20% ABV, $35

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4. Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café

Calling Grand Brulot a liqueur is a bit of a stretch since it comes in at a full 80 proof. It also disrupts the category by infusing VSOP Cognac (rather than rum or vodka) with Ecuadoran 100 percent Robusta coffee beans for a dark, concentrated richness.

 Inspired by what the company says is a French tradition going back over 200 years, the result is essentially a shot of espresso and a shot of alcohol in one pour. Everything is put together at the 270-acre Tardy family estate, where cellar master Christophe Tardy distills estate-grown Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes into an eaux de vie, aging it for about five years. the Robusta coffee bean essence is extracted, blended with the Cognac and rested in French oak for a couple more months. The company doesn’t mention added sugar, but there must be at least a little, based on the stickiness of the bottle after I pour a dram. The result is a deliciously dry coffee spirit with only the slightest hint of sweetness (you’ll catch a hint of honey on the nose) and a tannic finish that lingers long after you’ve swallowed.

You can drink this spirit (slowly) over ice, but I prefer it neat, savoring it like the last espresso or cappuccino of the evening. Because it is a full proof spirit, it also holds up well in Negroni and Manhattan riffs.

40% ABV, $40

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5. Du Nord Cafe Frieda Coffee Liqueur

Another coffee liqueur influenced by the flavors of the South, Cafe Frieda is a relatively new offering from Minneapolis-based craft distillery Du Nord Social Spirits. The recipient of a Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative in 2020, from whiskey producers Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel’s, Du Nord was conceived by Chris Montana. Starting as a small independent producer trying to make his way among a sea of products and experienced marketers, everything changed May 25, 2020 when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, sparking a year of protests, a new generation of activism and inspiring Montana to work even harder to grow his brand through the Advancement Initiative.

The black-owned brand emphasizes quality product, diverse employment, a celebration of forging ahead, and paying things forward by supporting other business leaders of color through its foundation. Cafe Frieda is a blend of locally roasted Fair Trade Peace Coffee, roasted chicory, Minnesota beet sugar and Du Nord’s own distilled spirit. It’s named for a high school teacher who inspired Montana in his early years, and is a balanced, complex sweetened liqueur with a deep chocolate nuttiness and notes of orange, raisin and spice. The coffee beans are so local, they’re delivered to the distillery by bike! Great on its own or the company’s espresso martini riff, the La Adelita (recipe below). Currently it’s available in bars in Minnesota, California, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana.

25% ABV, $30

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6. Mozart Chocolate Coffee Liqueur

This dessert-in-a-glass is a lovely, rich twist on Mozart Distillerie’s popular chocolate creme liqueur. The 175-year-old Salzburg-based producer launched this latest expression in 2021. The blend of Arabica coffee, Belgian chocolate, cocoa beans, sugar, and a base creme liqueur is smooth, creamy and chocolaty, with just a bite of coffee in the mid-palate and finish. Take your favorite coffeehouse mocha drink, add a little booze and thicken it to the consistency of a milkshake (Or imagine an elevated Mudslide from the 90s) and you’ll get a hint of the indulgent pleasure awaiting. The bottle is wrapped in dark brown foil, like a truffle chocolate candy (it’s the first of the brand’s expressions to show off the new bottle design), and makes for a welcome gift.

Though it’s rich enough to sip neat or chilled, you can blend it with spirits or sweet mixers for an even more indulgent drink. Mozart recommends the cavity-inducing Espresso Caramel Brownie cocktail on its website: Mozart Coffee Chocolate Liqueur, Cream, Vanilla Sugar, Caramel Sauce and Cocoa Powder.

17% ABV, $35

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7. Jameson Cold Brew Whiskey & Coffee

This is an enjoyable, bold variant in the category. Combining Jameson Irish whiskey and Arabica coffee beans from Brazil and Colombia, the brand decided to eschew any added sugar. This makes the finished blend dry, full-bodied and fairly strong (despite the lower ABV).

The coffee is most noticeable up front, while the whiskey warms and lingers at the back of the palate and through the finish. It’s basically an Irish Coffee in a bottle, minus the whipped cream.

With that in mind, interestingly, Jameson suggests the sweet mixer you’ll want to try is cola. Pour the Cold Brew Whiskey into a glass with fresh ice, top with cola and garnish with an orange twist. Remember also, that there’s a good hit of caffeine in this one, and plan your evenings accordingly.

30% ABV, $25

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8. Patron XO Café

This was officially discontinued by Patron in 2021. If you can find it, you’ll either love it or hate it, thanks to its unique flavor profile. An agave-based coffee liqueur (featuring the essence of Arabica coffees), it’s grassy, rich and lightly sweet. Like Mr Black, it runs on the dry side. Unlike that coffee liqueur, it’s a higher-proofed product, so you’ll notice the boozy kick.

Rich, fresh coffee notes are enhanced with overtones of dark chocolate (especially), vanilla (less so) and black pepper. The tequila comes through on the nose and in the finish. Fans of old school, no-nonsense diner coffee may find the taste nostalgic.

Sip neat, add to black coffee, or mix with equal parts silver tequila, Patron XO and cream for an herbaceous take on the White Russian.

35% ABV, price varies online ($40 – $200)

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Some Recipes

Marlboro Man

by Lindsay Matteson, Bar Manager, Barnacle / The Walrus and the Carpenter

1 oz Laphroaig 10 Year Islay Scotch Single Malt Whisky

1 oz Amaro Abano

1 oz Punt e Mes

1/4 oz Borghetti Espresso Liqueur

In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients with fresh ice. Stir well to chill, strain into a coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Cold Brew Old Fashioned

1 oz Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur

1 oz Bourbon or Rye

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with ice, strain into a rocks glass with a large fresh ice cube or sphere. Garnish with expressed orange peel

La Adelita

1.5 oz Cafe Frieda Coffee Liqueur

1 oz Foundation Vodka

1 oz Orange Liqueur

1 oz Espresso Coffee

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with three coffee beans.

This article originally appeared on Alcoholprofessor.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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