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Taste Test: Coffee Liqueurs

Mexico’s Kahlúa and Tia Maria, originally from Jamaica, once dominated the coffee liqueur market. The two rum-based brands were introduced in the 1930s and ’40s, respectively, and together they largely defined the category. But in recent decades, as craft distillers joined bigger brands by adding coffee liqueurs to their offerings, variety has enlivened the lineup. Using diverse base spirits—from rum to vodka to tequila to brandy—and infusing the mix with coffee or combining it with cold brew, these liqueurs go all in on coffee’s character.

St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur Looking to re-create the flavors of New Orleans–style coffee, California’s St. George Spirits combines arabica coffee beans, chicory root, Madagascar vanilla, and organic sugar for its NOLA Coffee Liqueur. Working with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans roasted on-site in a light-to-dark spectrum, the distillery cold-infuses the beans into water and high-proof vodka, then blends the infusions to capture the flavors of the regional brew in the bottle. Supremely balanced, the liqueur comes across as almost creamy, rooted by the complexity of chicory and the coffee’s roasted notes. $34.99/750 ml., vineandtable.storebyweb.com

Rhine Hall Coffee Liqueur Chicago’s Rhine Hall is known for its eau de vie made using fresh fruit, the majority of which is sourced from the Great Lakes region. In 2019, the distillery teamed up with neighboring Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea to create this outstanding coffee liqueur, made from a barrel-aged pineapple brandy, with cold-brew concentrate (coffee beans come from
a rotating roster of local roasters), and vanilla-infused demerara sugar. Expertly entwining notes of tropical fruit with its coffee character, this unusual offering makes a vibrant addition to the category. $55.96/750 ml., astorwines.com

Maggie’s Farm Coffee Liqueur Pittsburgh distillery Maggie’s Farm Rum uses Louisiana turbinado sugar for its rums, which provide the base for its coffee liqueur. Using coffee beans from local roaster Commonplace Coffee, the distillery grinds the beans in-house and creates a cold brew, which is blended with white rum. Rounded out with a house-made vanilla extract and touch of dark brown sugar, the liqueur sings with notes of dark-roast coffee. $28/750 ml., hopcaskandbarrel.com

Forthave Spirits Brown Idiosyncratic Brooklyn distillery Forthave Spirits uses both cold-brew extraction and ground-bean maceration in steel tanks to capture coffee’s range of flavors in its liqueur. The anaerobically fermented beans are grown by Nicaragua’s Don Sergio Ortez and roasted by César Vega of Café Integral, then Forthave macerates and mixes to create the small-batch bottling. The light-bodied Brown is the most delicate liqueur of the bunch with a maple-like sweetness derived from raw turbinado sugar. $28/375 ml., dewinespot.co

Mr Black Single Origin Colombia First released to U.S. markets in 2019, Sydney, Australia’s Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur featured a three-coffee base. For its second release, Mr Black used its successful proprietary cold-brew process and Australian wheat vodka base, but turned its attention singularly to Colombia’s Finca Villa Betulia, run by farmer Luis Aníbal Calderón outside of Huila. The first in the brand’s Single Origin series, the Colombia embodies the rich, woody depths of espresso, while adding just enough sweetness to complement the coffee’s acidity. $49.96/750 ml., astorwines.com

Patrón XO Cafe Created from a base of Patrón Silver and the “essence” of coffee, XO Cafe has been winning over coffee lovers since 1992. So dark it’s nearly opaque, XO Cafe starts with a tequila base that lends herbal, spicy agave notes to the aroma and comes through pleasantly in the taste, matching coffee’s deep, chocolaty notes with its brightness. A higher ABV (35 percent) gives this rich liqueur a pleasantly dry finish. $16.99/375 ml., centralwinemerchants.com

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