Coffee and liquor are having a new love affair — in the form of hard coffee, from unique boozy and caffeinated drinks popping up at your favorite bar to pre-packaged mixtures hitting liquor store shelves all over the city. Leading the local scene is the new DBL BLK, a bottled mix of Pablo's Coffee cold brew and Ironton Distillery vodka.
"We continued to complain about the same two problems: one, we love to ski and hike but don't enjoy beers in the morning, and two, the brunch drink scene needed some disruption," says DBL BLK co-founder Matt Wickiser. "So often at a brunch you order coffee and a Bloody or mimosa, so we connected the dots and decided that combining quality, craft coffee along with handcrafted spirits would solve both of these challenges and create the perfect morning drink."
DBL BLK was founded in Colorado by Wickiser and his friends, Connor Anderson and Matt Casatelli, last November. With backgrounds in solar energy and precision agriculture, finance, and corporate sales, they left their desk jobs (or hope to, once the product takes off) to pursue a dream job in booze and coffee in true Colorado entrepreneurial fashion.
"It embodies the spirit of a Saturday morning on the trail or at brunch with a group of friends," says Wickiser about the beverage. "We never imagined this as a pregame or party drink, although it certainly works there, too. We created it for those with an active lifestyle and sense of adventure, and that's what Colorado's all about."
But DBL BLK isn't the only new caffeinated booze in a can. Late last year, La Colombe Hard Cold Brew Coffee picked Denver, Vail and Breckenridge to be the test market for its 4.2 percent ABV beverage, made in Michigan by MillerCoors in partnership with La Colombe Coffee Roasters.
"We wanted to find cities that represented different aspects of our consumer target, so we looked for mid-sized and major cities with large millennial populations with plenty of working professionals who lead active and busy lifestyles," says Nick Jessee, speaking on behalf of MillerCoors.
Booze in coffee isn't something new; it's been around for decades, with Irish coffee as the most famous example. Traditionally this is a hot cup of coffee with sugar, cream and a shot of Irish whiskey in it, which you can get with a pinch of nutmeg at the Arvada Tavern (5707 Olde Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada). The Irish coffee is often credited to Joe Sheridan, a chef in Ireland who popularize the cocktail in the 1940s, though versions of this drink have been around for a lot longer in various iterations (not to mention that fifth of whiskey your boss keeps in their desk to sneak into their morning joe). Since the 19th century, the mixture of coffee and booze in France has been called a Gloria, and Vienna cafés have served an array of hot coffee for nearly as long as the coffee bean has been sold in Europe.
There's also the sultry espresso martini, created by London bartender Dick Bradsel in the late 1980s, that permeated nightclubs for most of the following decade. Plenty of bars still serve the tipple today, though versions vary. American Elm (4132 West 38th Avenue) pours a classic espresso martini with Family Jones House Vodka during brunch. But for something totally different, head to Ash'kara (2005 West 33rd Avenue) in LoHi, where you can indulge in a Turkish Coffee Martini. This cocktail blends vodka, espresso liqueur, Sabra (an Israeli chocolate-orange liqueur) and Generous Coffee Cold Brew, which is owned by one of the restaurant's partners, Ben Higgins. The complex brew comes in a Turkish coffee pot with traditional decorative coffee glasses.
"I chose to put this on the menu as a way of being playful on a nontraditional Turkish coffee service," says Ash'Kara's Nicole Lebedevitch. "I wanted this to be a shared experience for the guests, whether they were looking for a pick-me-up or just a way to round out their experience after dinner."
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Many other craft coffee cocktails have become popular in Denver's bar scene. At Hudson Hill (619 East 13th Avenue) the menu included numerous drinks laced with cold brew, such as the City Witch and the rum-filled Rumble Fish. Death & Co (1280 25th Street) in RiNo adds coffee to its Long Division and Bat Country, which can be ordered cold or hot. And Hearth & Dram (1801 Wewatta Street) serves the Wayne Manor, a tequila and cold brew creation.
For those on the go, national brands such as PBR canned hard coffee and Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee, both which hit the liquor shelves last summer, are also options. Coffee-infused beers are nothing new, but brewers are becoming more creative, with the likes of Blue Moon Iced Coffee Blonde Ale, Great Divide Brewing Co. Coffee Porter, and Avery Brewing Co. Tweak, a seasonal stout with coffee added to the whiskey-barrel-aging process.
No matter how you roast it, coffee and liquor have become a thing, and we think the love affair will get stronger over time. Wake up to this trend now and let us know how you take your boozy coffee.