We’re living a new golden age of cocktails. Using craft spirits, fresh ingredients and homemade mixers, mixologists are refining classics and inventing new ones. And from Montauk to Manhattan and everywhere in between, one of the ingredients they’re reaching for more and more is coffee.
“You’re getting a caffeine hit and mixing it with alcohol which everyone loves,” Library Café General Manager Mike Ditroia said. “It’s an ideal after dinner drink that pairs well with desserts.”
Last April the Farmingdale restaurant began working with local company Sail Away Coffee to create a coffee cocktail program. The cocktails have been so popular that at any given time the Library Café has five coffee cocktails on the menu, including at least one that is seasonal.
Two of their most popular according to Ditroia are the Blackout Stout which is half Guinness, half nitro cold brew served in a 16-ounce pint glass and an Americano with hazelnut liqueur, vanilla vodka and cold brew served in a 9-ounce glass.
In a way it was only a matter of time before coffee cocktails became a thing.
“The cowboys probably put whiskey in their coffee and the Irish certainly have since the dawn of time,” Rowdy Hall Bar Manager Joe Gonzalez said. Rowdy Hall has been creating coffee cocktails since the 1990s with Hampton Coffee Company.
“One morning we were having a particularly boring meeting in the bar at Rowdy and the sun was coming through the window just so and lighting up this bottle of whiskey on the back bar. I could tell everyone was thinking it so we went for it,” Gonzalez said. Today, at any give time, Rowdy has as many as four hot coffee cocktails on its menu.
Much as the quality of spirits has gotten better thanks to craft producers, so too has the quality of coffee thanks to local roasters such as Hampton Coffee Company and Sail Away Coffee.
“Their process is incredible,” Ditroia said of Sail Away Coffee Company. “ They steep it for 24-hours, they always use sugarcane as opposed to regular sugar, and the nitro gives it the effect of Guinness. It settles well. It’s a rich, smooth coffee that you don’t need to add sugar, milk to cream too.”
Others clearly agree with Ditroia. Chris Vetter launched Sail Away Coffee in 2015 and the company’s cold brews quickly began showing up throughout Long Island. First at farmers markets and then Jones Beach and finally in restaurants where the company worked to create coffee cocktail programs, now with more than 40 restaurants in New York and Connecticut.
Mixologists depend on the quality of the coffee when using it in cocktails. While coffee is a versatile ingredient it is also challenging to work with do to its complexity.
“The type of coffee and the brewing method depend on the flavor profile you’re looking for in your drink and the characteristics that you want to come from the coffee,” said Matt Dorsey mixologist of the I Forgot it’s Wednesday Supper Club. Dorsey, a self-described coffee addict began pairing coffee with spirits three years ago and now has a handful of coffee cocktails he serves on a regular basis.
“If you’re mixing up a spirit-forward, boozy drink like a Manhattan, try using a cold-brewed espresso blend for a richer texture and chocolate notes that complement the rye. If you’re using a more vegetal spirit like tequila or cachaca, you may want to opt for a lighter roast with floral and fruity notes.”
While mixologists continue to refine cocktails it seems the coffee trend is here to stay and the the struggle between choosing a cocktail or coffee at brunch or dessert is over.