The Best New Summer Booze Trend? Spiked Cold Brew.
Call it the gentleman's Four Loko
“Buzz and a lift. It’s rare to have two benefits.”
Tom Baker, the co-founder of Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, threw that line out half jokingly when I asked him last winter about the sudden appeal of cold-brew-based tipples.
And while those benefits are true, the real appeal is that a cold brewed coffee and booze just work well together — the coffee rounds out the booze, enhancing the sweeter and more chocolate-y notes.
“I think some of the companies in this [coffee/booze] space are looking at this market like White Claw, but I think for others, they realize this is just a natural pairing,” says Baker. “They noticed the interest in coffee is at an all-time high, and if you put coffee cocktails on your menu, people really love them.”
While cold brew and coffee is, unfortunately, a combination that’s easy to love and even easier to drink, it’s also a combination that’s really hard to do well.
The Australia-based Mr. Black combines a concentrated, highly acidic cold brew with wheat vodka and cane-based sugars during a two-week process. They roast three different coffees individually to create unique profiles, cold brew in an ambient temperature and utilize wine-making tech and techniques to draw out the flavors.
Again, not easy. But it’s why they top our list of the best cold-brew (and cold-brew-adjacent) tipples, which we’ve diligently collected over the past several months. We sampled eight, and here’s our rundown, in order of preference.
Best Overall: Mr. Black
The original “cold brew”-based liqueur. A recent single-origin release had more notes of fig, honey and dark berries, but the original is basically a concentrated dark roast coffee that’s a bit syrupy in texture but also light, sweet and even retains a bit of real coffee’s bitterness (which cold brew tends to leech out). Ideal for “cold” Fashioneds, espresso martinis and even just paired with tonic. (Also, if you’re more of a coffee nerd, watch for occasional, limited-edition “Single Origin” releases from the brand.)
Mildest: Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee
Not quite cold brew, this “hard iced coffee” is creamy, soft on the palate and could easily pass for any decent canned coffee … but with a 5% ABV kick.
Best for Irish Coffee: Jameson Cold Brew
Almost all whisky on the nose, while the coffee elements only come into play as you sip. The smoothness of Irish whiskey works well with the rounded flavors of the roasted Arabica beans, and you’re left with a surprisingly dark chocolate note. Not robust but overall well balanced, and obviously great in an Irish Coffee.
Most Versatile: Grand Brulot
A liqueur based around a VSOP Cognac combined with 100% Robusta coffee from Ecuador, then aged in French Oak barrels. It’s being marketed as the base for a “luxury ice coffee” or to be enjoyed with cold brew, and we can see why — although there’s not much on the nose, there’s enough mocha, coffee and vanilla notes here to (subtly) enhance your daily coffee experience … or to make a good variation on Arnaud’s Cafe Brulot.
Best Shooter: Jagermeister Cold Brew
The outside elements here (roasted Arabica coffee with a bit of cacao) temper the herbal elements you don’t fondly remember. The brand suggests serving in an “ice cold shot” — much like the original — but we tried this in a few coffee-based cocktails and it adds some unique and sometimes welcome character. Not all cold brew drinks need to be smooth.
Best Coffee Beer: New Belgium Nitro Cold Brew
This is pretty much a normal cream ale with a tiny hint of coffee flavor (they use High Brew Cold Brew). It’s much more beer than java, but inoffensive if you’re partial to this brewing style.
Best With Rum: Kahlua Nitro Cold Brew
A rum-based liqueur and 100% Arabica cold-brew-coffee blend that’s extremely smooth and creamy (credit the nitro). Enjoyable almost as if you’re drinking a non-boozy nitro cold brew, but I think an actual rum, coffee liqueur and cold brew mixed drink would draw out the disparate ingredients more.
Best After-Dinner: Cafe Agave Spiked Cold Brew
Cold brew spiked with an agave wine, but the 12.5% ABV here is a little aggressive for a canned drink. That said, there are four flavors available, and the vanilla/cinnamon and salted caramel variations make this an interesting after-dinner drink alternative.
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