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8 best hard coffees

It’s time to mix the beans with the booze

Claire Dodd
Friday 18 May 2018 17:45 BST
Pep talk: what better way to get a kick?
Pep talk: what better way to get a kick?

Like your coffee with a bit of a kick? Fret not if only single-origin, or cold brew will do. Drinks makers are following the trends of the coffee world and incorporating them into high-quality liqueurs, vodkas and tequilas among others.

While glitter cappuccinos and latte art may be some of the more dubious trends our growing love of coffee has spawned in recent times, quality coffee-inspired booze is certainly one of the better ones. And it seems no drinks type is off-limits. Liqueurs are no longer de rigueur. A recent launch by Apothic in the US, for example, even saw red wine infused with cold brew coffee.

While we’ve yet to see a wine, the trend is gaining momentum in the UK too, with ever more coffee-inspired alcoholic drinks being released. But what makes a good example? Instead of being overly sweet like many of the coffee liqueurs of old, we’re looking for an authentic coffee taste. The key is a kick of coffee that is sophisticated and nuanced rather than being simply one dimensional. But that doesn’t mean it should overpower the alcohol. Products that balance out and showcase both the boozy base liquid, as well as the coffee itself, score highly here.

So, whether you’re looking for something to sip straight, or you want something to give your homemade espresso martinis that little extra something, we’ve plenty of suggestions for you.

Conker Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, 25%: £27.65 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange

Created by Dorset’s first gin distillery, this boozy brew uses distilled British wheat spirit and a touch of demerara sugar as a base. To that, the good folk at Bournemouth-based Conker have added cold brew Ethiopian and Brazilian speciality coffee to create a spiked, Dorset-roasted espresso. Designed to please even fussy coffee lovers, the liqueur uses no flavourings, colourings, extracts or thickeners; just cold brew coffee.

According to the brand, the Brazilian beans are roasted darker and longer to accentuate the cacao and caramel notes, whereas the Ethiopian coffee is roasted faster and lighter to accentuate its sweetness and natural citrus character. The result of trial and error of 96 recipes, the final blend is by turns fruity, smooth and earthy, with hints of vanilla and a lingering sweetness. Nuanced, and with a little boozy heat at the end, this liqueur is so packed with coffee beans that it smells exactly like a very dark, very strong mug of freshly brewed coffee. Perfection.

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Patrón XO Cafe, 35%: £25 for 350ml, Asda

Pricey, but oh so worth it. If you’ve ever had Patrón XO Cafe you’ll know what a truly heavenly combination booze and coffee can be. If you haven’t, get on it. The premium tequila brand manages to pull off the near impossible by highlighting both the flavours of the Jalisco-produced Patrón Silver Tequila, alongside coffee sourced from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Chiapas. Though the coffee itself is bold, smooth, and just the right level of sweet, that lovely fresh, almost grassy, slightly smoky tequila is never far away. This is available in larger formats, but we like to keep ours in the freezer to serve super chilled, for which a small bottle probably works best.

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Chase Espresso Vodka, 40%: £37.80 for 700ml, Amazon

This limited edition from Herefordshire distiller Chase is a bold blend, especially good for those not fond of saccharine drinks. Light in colour and not overly sweet, this full-strength vodka delivers that intense burst of coffee but without being excessively bitter. Made from Ethiopian coffee and a base of Chase’s English Potato Vodka, it’s slowly distilled through a copper gin still, then cold-brewed, chill-filtered and blended with more coffee.

We’re just going to get the cliches out of our system because this vodka warrants them; smooth as silk, soft as velvet, etc etc. Sip on its own and let the flavours of muscovado sugar and bitter coffee slowly unfold. You may want to set aside an evening to slowly savour this one. Or if you’re sensitive to caffeine, maybe brunch is a better idea.

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Mr Black Coffee Amaro, 28.5%: £33.95 for 700ml, 31Dover

If you’re a coffee fan, you may have already tried Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liquor. But now the New South Wales-based roaster and distiller has added cold brew coffee to 14 distilled and macerated botanicals to create this brand-new fusion of Italian after-dinner drinking and Australian coffee culture.

Describing this new product as a modern take on the traditional bitter liqueur, it uses coriander, angelica, liquorice root, gentian, caraway and citrus from the distillery’s own garden. Sweet, tangy and herbal with the amaro really coming to the fore, there’s something nettle-like and almost beery at times, before the coffee kicks in with a slick of bittersweetness. Distinctive and perfectly balanced, this amaro is endlessly intriguing. Drink on its own, long with tonic and a wedge of grapefruit, or add to a negroni alongside gin and vermouth.

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Faith & Sons Coffee Gin Liqueur, 37.5%: £39.95 for 500ml, Master of Malt

Manchester-based Faith & Sons has shrewdly combined two major trends with this one. For what drink is more fashionable right now than gin? Green coffee beans are roasted at the microdistillery before being cold brewed. As with most cold brew products on our list, the resulting coffee is less acidic and lacking the super bitter elements found in other coffees. Slightly chocolatey and with a peppery kick, there’s even a hint of orange in the finish. Again, sip alone or lengthen with tonic.

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Fair Café Liqueur, 22%: £25 for 700ml, Borough Wines

Organic, and made using fair trade arabica beans from a co-op of 1,900 independent farmers in the Huatusco region of Veracruz, and sugar from Malawi and Paraguay, this is coffee with a conscience. Slow roasted for intensity and to fully extract the flavour, the beans are then infused directly into the spirit. The result is dry and earthy and much more akin to an espresso. Slightly syrupy, with a little more sweetness than the others on our list, this is infinitely accessible, especially for those that find overly bitter coffee off-putting, but still tastes quality. Shake with espresso over ice for a simple espresso martini.

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Aber Falls Coffee & Dark Chocolate Liqueur, 20.6%: £23.94 for 700ml, Amazon

There’s quite a substantial amount of chocolate in this Welsh tipple. In fact, this liqueur tastes something close to a delicious chocolate milkshake, until that distinctive hint of coffee hits right at the end. Aber Falls Distillery uses local ingredients to make its spirits, which include gins, whisky and liqueurs, and claims to be the first distillery in North Wales for more than a century, and one of only four in Wales. Inspired by the popular espresso martini, this liqueur perfectly balances the roasted, aromatic coffee flavour with the bittersweet hints of dark chocolate. Mix with milk, over ice for a decadent but super simple milkshake-like cocktail.

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Cazcabel Coffee Liqueur, 34%: £25.45 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange

Another one for tequila fans, this liqueur combines Cazcabel Blanco with luxury arabica coffee from the coastal region of Soconusco in Mexico. Substantially lower in price than other coffee tequilas on our list, this is a great alternative if you’re looking for something a little lighter on the wallet. What really comes out in this blend is a profound amount of chocolate. But also dry and sour, there’s a distinctive and intense – almost hot – punch of booze at the end. Less balanced than others on our list, it’s still a great value alternative.

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The verdict: hard coffees

It seems it’s 96 times is a charm when it comes to hard coffee. Conker’s extensive experimentation to get the recipe for its liqueur just right, and in turn honour and showcase the quality of the coffee itself, has paid off spectacularly. For both flavour and value for money, you simply won’t find better.

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