Local Bars Embrace Coffee Cocktail Trend with Original and Tasty Offerings
These alcoholic drinks from some of Austin’s best bars will give holiday spirit(s) a caffeine boost
‘Tis the season for overindulgence — or everything in moderation, including moderation. With that in mind, I’d like to raise a glass to alcohol-enhanced coffee drinks, a category that offers the best of both worlds if you’re a fan of caffeine and cocktails.
“Cocktails, like most cultural phenomena, are cyclical,” says Alex Holder, VP of Beverage & Operations at MML Hospitality. “There’s a whole new generation discovering ‘90s classic drinks like the espresso martini, which has also become a top seller at many of our restaurants over the last couple of years.”
The intoxicating combination of coffee and alcohol has been a part of imbibing culture since 1943, when the Irish Whiskey (sugar, Irish whiskey, coffee, heavy cream) was invented at a Northern Ireland airport bar. It was the creation of the espresso martini in the 80s, by London bartender Dick Bradsell, however, that truly captured the collective imagination of bar professionals and baristas alike.
In the ensuing decades, spiked coffee drinks and coffee cocktails have earned a place on menus worldwide. Here in Austin, coffee houses like Cosmic Coffee and Halcyon offer classics like Mexico’s Carajillo (Licor 43 and espresso, served over ice or hot) or a chocolate espresso martini (vanilla vodka, Caffe del Fuego, espresso, Godiva Liqueur) as well as original drinks of their own creation.
Coffee house/bar hybrids like Better Half and Simona’s in the Colton House Hotel up the ante with high-octane craft cocktails made with espresso, nitro cold brew and/or various coffee liqueurs. The former’s Waiting for Coffee is a complex libation made with El Dorado 12-year Guyanese Rum, cold brew, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Velvet Falernum.
At Simona’s, a short list of coffee-enhanced cocktails includes the Saddle Up, a bracing combination of Jameson Cold Brew (a coffee-infused whiskey made by the famed Irish distillery), Fernet Branca, cold brew coffee, cane sugar, soda water, mint and lemon oil.
Plenty of dedicated bars around town also incorporate coffee into their craft cocktails, some more successfully than others. A drink is only as good as its components, so in addition to spirits and other flavorings, it’s critical to use quality coffee beans. Roast and varietal also matter when adding coffee in any format to a cocktail, regardless of serving temperature.
At Howard’s, MML Hospitality’s six-week-old Clarksville bar, Proud Mary Coffee’s Humbler blend — a dark roast of Brazilian and El Salvadoran beans with pronounced chocolate, caramel and date notes — is used for a cold brew concentrated base in the bar’s draft nitro espresso martini, which also contains vodka and Amaro Montenegro. The latter is a bitter herbal Italian liqueur that gives the drink an evocative floral finish that’s irresistible in coffee drinks. “We liken its flavor to a dark chocolate-dipped orange,” says Holder.
The Roosevelt Room’s Black Mountain Coffee also uses Amaro Montenegro to magnificent effect, in combination with Tullamore D.E.W Irish Whiskey, Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur, Giffard Banane du Bresil and salted cinnamon cream. Served on the rocks, it’s a complex, layered riff on an Irish Whiskey with pronounced nutty, tropical fruit notes.
At In Plain Sight, Cognac, Amaretto and coffee cream combine to create a luxurious warming cocktail called the Santé, what the bar calls a “French take on the Irish Coffee.” The Codependent’s eponymous drink is a blend of Z Tequila Reposado, Mr. Black Cold Brew Liqueur, espresso and Licor 43, which pack an earthy, herbaceous punch with notes of vanilla, oak and citrus.
Similarly, Wax Myrtle’s Mexican Coffee is made with tequila or mezcal, cold brew, cinnamon and whipped cream, while Cozy Weather is an autumnal variation with tequila reposado, coffee liqueur, coconut cream, pumpkin spice syrup and whipped cream.
Vodka may be categorized as a neutral spirit, but Aba’s Ancient Oak Espresso Martini (Belvedere Smogóry Forest Single Estate Rye Vodka, St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Beatrix Coffee Roasters “Voyager” espresso, demerara sugar) was created with components that complimented this Polish vodka’s robust, slightly savory flavor profile.
“We chose this coffee liqueur for its earthy, chicory flavor and Voyager has nutty, chocolatey notes,” says senior beverage manager Thomas Mizuno-Moore. “Combined with the caramel and molasses accents of the sugar, the cocktail as a whole is a rich, decadent, luxurious version of the espresso martini. This one wakes you up and starts the party.”
And that, in essence, is the point of a caffeinated cocktail. Whether served at a boozy brunch or happy hour, or as a post-prandial pick-me-up, coffee in a spirituous format is simultaneously celebratory and stimulating. Cheers.
Coffee liqueurs to try at home
All due respect to OG coffee spirits like Kahlúa and Tia Maria, but Texas is producing some fine caffeinated versions of its own. Stock your holiday home bar with the following.
Cafecito and Cafecito Chocolate Coffee Liqueurs
Revolution Spirits, Dripping Springs
Made with Cuvée Coffee and a touch of Madagascar vanilla, these smooth, small-batch spirits make for ideal sipping neat or in your favorite cocktails. The Chocolate version is a collaboration with Austin’s own Srysly Chocolate.
Caffe del Fuego
Remington Family Distillers, Austin
A favorite of local bar professionals, del Fuego is a complex, layered sip with notes of dark chocolate and toffee, courtesy of a proprietary five-bean blend from Austin Roasting Company. A corn base and whisper of vanilla add mellow sweetness.
Leanderthal Distilling, Leander
Freshly roasted beans from Georgetown’s Coyote Moon give this high-proof agave-based spirit an added jolt — it’s also sweetened with blue agave nectar. Save this one for spiking your thermos or amping Amaro or Sherry-based cocktails