There comes a time in every person’s life when the jolt of electricity aimed at keeping your revelry going should not come from Red Bull in your vodka. Or Monster in your mezcal. Or a demure little shot of 5-Hour Energy in your bourbon. Fortunately, there’s always the coffee-based cocktail—a far more sophisticated, infinitely tastier option than any of those deeply questionable life-choices masquerading as proper drinks. (I have a theory that a grown adult who throws down a Jagerbomb with anything but the deepest sense of irony has all kinds of issues they need to contend with.)
Proper coffee cocktails, however, are finding the foothold they so richly deserve all over the city and beyond right now. Back in November, Elixr hosted a competition featuring coffee cocktails, which seems to have finally given the art of marrying booze and caffeine the respect it deserves. And Italian restaurants have for a seeming eternity offered the magnificent caffe corretto, a deceptively simple combination of espresso and grappa. (In Italy’s Piedmont region a few years ago, it became my go-to breakfast-time pick-me-up. Sure as hell beats a decaf!)
But the range of flavors that coffee brings to a cocktail is something that smart mixologists have really begun leveraging, and to very exciting ends. Emmanuelle mixes up the Filibuster, a drink in which cold-brewed coffee is married to two kinds of rum, spiced curaçao, Swedish Punsch, sugar and allspice dram. Hop Sing Laundromat mixes up standouts like the Nevermore—gin, Vietnamese coffee, cream, Patron Citronge—and the coffee-kissed Boston Healer, which also includes bourbon, Licor 43, honey liqueur and mint.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need actual coffee in a cocktail to impart the telltale richness of those beans. Because coffee bitters are also finding their way into serious drinks as well. Bittermens makes “New Orleans Coffee Bitters,” and Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Aphrodite Bitters are made with, among a plethora of other ingredients, coffee. And then there’s the classic Irish coffee—but the real stuff, not the depressing mug of Sanka spiked with Bailey’s that your Aunt Maud serves for the holidays. Composed of distinct layers of coffee, Irish whiskey and whipped cream, it is among the most warming and comforting coffee concoctions you can order. It’s easy to whip up right at home, too—perfect for the next time you’re snowed in.
A final note for latte drinkers addicted to a certain national coffeeshop chain: Kahlua released a limited-edition peppermint mocha liqueur for the holidays, and as of this week, at least some state stores still have it on the shelf.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014