I’ve often wondered why there’s not more overlap between the world of coffee and the world of cocktails.
The two beverages—bookends for many of us on a typical day—were once bit players on the fine-dining stage, prepared without care and presented without ceremony. Today, of course, everything has changed: Restaurants across the country have ambitious cocktail menus, alongside coffee programs featuring name-brand beans, freshly roasted in small batches.
And craft bartenders and baristas tend to be of the same ilk (and I don’t mean just that they share a penchant for fancy hats and waistcoats). They’re passionate geeks and tinkerers who fetishize new equipment and ingredients while keeping their feet firmly rooted in age-old traditions.
So why don’t they hang out together? Rarely does one hear of a barista cross-training at a cocktail bar, nor can one imagine our more serious mixologists steaming milk for a Macchiato. And when coffee and spirits do meet in the glass, the result is often disastrous. I’ve seen otherwise decent bartenders pour Baileys into a cup of stale black mud and call the lukewarm mess an Irish Coffee. Oh, the humanity!
But the result can also be sublime. Coffee boasts an incredibly wide range of flavors, depending on its origin and how it was processed, roasted and prepared. Treated correctly, it can be a powerful component of a mixed drink. At Fort Defiance, my cafe-bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, we’re known for our cocktails, but we’ve always taken our coffee seriously, too.
One of my favorite drinks that combine both is the Kirsch au Café (pictured above), adapted from Charles H. Baker, Jr.’s recipe published in his 1939 The Gentleman’s Companion, which explores espresso’s deep chocolate and cherry notes.
Another good tipple to try is talented Los Angeles barman Eric Alperin’s Café Corrección Ponche that plays off cold-brew coffee’s bright orange-peel and spice flavors.
Kirsch au Café
Contributed by St. John Frizell
- 1 oz Cognac
- .75 oz Kirsch
- .75 oz Cherry Heering
- .5 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
- .5 to 1 oz Egg white
- 1 shot (about 1 oz) Freshly brewed espresso
- Glass: Small cocktail (two)
Add all the ingredients except the espresso to a shaker and shake (without ice) until frothy. Fill with ice and add the espresso. Shake well and strain into two small cocktail glasses.
Contributed by Eric Alperin
- 1.5 tsp Demerara sugar
- 2 strips Orange peel
- 12 oz Diplomático Añejo Rum
- 4 oz Punt e Mes
- 8 oz Cold-brew coffee*
- 4 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
- 4 oz Fresh orange juice
- Ground cinnamon
- Garnish: Cinnamon sticks
- Glass: Teacup
In a large bowl or pitcher, muddle the sugar and orange peel. Let stand for an hour or so to extract the oils. Add the remaining ingredients and a little cracked ice. Stir, and strain into a punch bowl filled with a large ice block. Top with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon. Serve in teacups, garnished with cinnamon sticks cracked in half the long way.
*There are many commercial brands of cold-brew coffee available today, but it’s easy enough to make at home. There’s much dispute about what the proper ratio of water to coffee should be using this method, but here’s how we do it at Fort Defiance: Stir together half a pound of ground coffee and 2 quarts of water in a large container. Stir again after 15 minutes and let rest for 12 to 24 hours. Strain through a fine sieve and discard the coffee grounds. This recipe yields about 6 cups.
St. John Frizell is the owner of acclaimed Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance.