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 café-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.
Either is perfect for a warm spring afternoon, so start grinding some beans now.
Contributed by St. John Frizell; St. John Frizell is the owner of acclaimed Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance.