Feeling sluggish after your Thanksgiving feasting? Consider the drink that helped bring cocktails out of the dark ages of the 1970s, the Espresso Martini. Created by legendary bartender Dick Bradsell in London, at a time when the idea of a cocktail at a London nightclub was a warm gin and tonic. The Espresso Martini was one of the first modern drinks to feature caffeine and alcohol, an idea that would later become popularized by the unfortunate combination of vodka and red bull (which in my experience only leads to unruly patrons). With an espresso machine next to the station where he worked, Bradsell became inspired when a patron approached the bar and said, “I want something that will wake me up and f**k me up.” And a classic was born.
- 1.5 OZ. VODKA
- .5 OZ. COFFEE OR ESPRESSO (SAVE SOME OF THAT MORNING COFFEE IN THE FRIDGE FOR LATER)
- .75 OZ. COFFEE LIQUEUR
- .5 OZ. SIMPLE SYRUP (SUBSTITUTE MAPLE SYRUP FOR A RICHER, MORE PRONOUNCED FLAVOR)
- 1 DASH OF ANGOSTURA
The Rise of Coffee Liqueur
The early 1980s was a strange time for creative cocktails. Vodka was king, and fruity martinis became more popular as the decade wore on. The first espresso martinis relied on Kahlua for the coffee flavor, but as we’ve entered the second golden age of the cocktail, many delicious coffee spirits are now available. Here are five to keep an eye out for – they’ll make your holiday espresso martini something special.
Cathead Distillery’s Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur
This luscious liqueur from Mississippi’s Cathead leans into the sustainably-sourced chicory root – ubiquitous in New Orleans coffee-drinking culture – for an earthy, spiced coffee flavor that is perfect for whiskey and rum cocktails.
Leopold Bros. French Press-Style Coffee Liqueur
The creative folks at Leopold use heat when blending the coffee and spirit together to keep the aromatic oils of the coffee intact throughout the production process. The result is a flavor bomb of coffee deliciousness that will shine in an espresso martini or white Russian.
St. George New Orleans Coffee Liqueur
Another brand taking inspiration from the complex combination of chicory and coffee, the folks at St. George use a cold process method for their spirit, resulting in a chocolatey, spiced concoction that can be used in small amounts. The boldest flavor of the bunch!
Red Eye Rye
It’s not often that a brand’s slogan is 100 percent true, but Nashville’s own Red Eye Rye is a coffee/rye whiskey blend that was indeed “born behind the bar,” as it says on the bottle. Robert Longhurst created this after-dinner sipper while running the bar at local comfort-food staple, Josephine. This one is perfect for a Manhattan after a big meal.
Café Borghetti Espresso Liqueur
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the Italian standbys. This brazenly caffeinated liqueur has been produced for 160 years and retains all of that strong, slightly bitter flavor profile for which Italian espresso is known for. With a mild spice backbone, this is the ultimate espresso martini companion.
About Mike Wolf
Writer and cocktail innovator Mike Wolf rose to fame building the bar program at Nashville’s award-winning Husk alongside venerable chef Sean Brock. He’s authored two books on cocktails — Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up and now a second book, Lost Spring: How We Cocktailed Through Crisis.