Tuesday 23 May 2023

Luxardo Espresso Liqueur

Luxardo kindly sent me a sample of their new Espresso liqueur. They describe it as “a traditional Italian liqueur obtained from a thirty-days infusion of a selected variety of fine coffees (Brazil, Columbia, Kenya), with the Arabica type predominating”. It certainly tastes very coffee-ish: I’m assuming it contains water, neutral spirit (it’s bottled at 27% ABV), sugar and coffee.

The obvious thing to compare it with is
Kahlúa. The first thing to note is that the Luxardo product is quite a bit less sweet, which would certainly make it more flexible—after all, you can always add more sugar, but you can’t really take it out. Secondly, while the Kahlúa does taste convincingly of coffee, the Luxardo liqueur tastes specifically of espresso coffee, that earthy, bitter, high-roast flavour, with hint of berry fruit (and a touch of rubber). In fact there is more to it than that: Kahlúa is made from a rum base, and the nose has rum and vanilla notes as well as coffee, whereas the Luxardo liqueur has a simpler nose, really just of coffee and sugar. The Kahlúa’s palate has distinct rum elements, whereas the Luxardo does not have any noticeable contribution from the spirit base; and Kahlúa’s coffee note is less profound, whereas the coffee flavour of the Luxardo has considerable depth to it (more than most cups of coffee I’ve had). 

Espresso Martini
Luxardo suggest drinking the espresso liqueur neat, chilled or on the rocks, though I don’t know how many people will do that. I get the impression that it’s all about the Espresso Martini, a cocktail created by Dick Bradsell in the early 1980s, originally served on the rocks, but converted to straight-up in a cocktail glass in the 1990s—a decade when every cocktail seemed to be served this way and named a “[Something] Martini”, even if its ingredients bore no resemblance to a Martini. This is typically made from vodka, freshly made espresso, coffee liqueur and sugar syrup. (Perversely, Simon Difford, on his website, omits the syrup but adds a couple of drops of saline solution, and adds that he likes to squeeze a lemon peel over the top. However, in my copy of Difford’s Cocktails #8, from 2009, the recipe just has vodka, espresso and sugar, so he’s obviously changed his mind since then. On the website he gives Bradsell’s recipe from the 1990s and it includes a blend of Kahlúa and Tia Maria.)

On this occasion I use the recipe from m’colleague David Smith’s new book Martini (Ryland Peters & Small):

Espresso Martini
45ml vodka (he suggests Beluga, but I’m using my new favourite, J.J. Whitley Artisanal Vodka)
15ml coffee liqueur (he uses Conker, but obviously I’m using Luxardo)
30ml espresso coffee
10ml simple syrup
Shake hard with ice and serve in a cocktail glass: it should have an appealing layer of foam on the top (what I believe coffee nerds call a crema). Garnish with coffee beans.

Reflecting on Difford’s original recipe, is this cocktail essentially vodka and coffee with a bit of sugar? (Apparently Bradsell’s original was just this, created at the request of a model who asked for something that would wake her up, then f**k her up.) Given that the liqueur has sugar in it anyway, you could just mix vodka and the liqueur—interestingly, another of the three cocktail recipes on Luxardo’s webpage for the liqueur is a Black Russian, which is precisely this, vodka and coffee liqueur. It’s a viable drink, particularly if you don’t want anything too sweet. Compared to the Martini, it’s obviously more about the alcohol, whereas the Martini is quite different, from having actual espresso in it. Which is interesting, given that the liqueur is made from coffee beans. But there is something earthy about the flavour and also the texture, which I guess comes from the suspension of coffee particles. To be honest the Espresso Martini from this recipe is too sweet for me, though Mrs H. is drinking it happily.

Coffee Old Fashioned
The Luxardo webpage gives only one other cocktail suggestion, a blend of 45ml coffee liqueur with 5ml sambuca, which they call an “Espresso, What Else!” I don’t have any sambuca to hand, though I’m guessing this is a riff on the tradition of serving sambuca on fire with a few coffee beans floating on the top.

Instead, it occurs to me that the coffee flavour should pair well with bourbon, and indeed it does. I offer it to Mrs H. and she said it needed chocolate. I do actually have some chocolate bitters from Mozart, and I can confirm that 3 or 4 dashes of this does go very well, making a sort of Coffee Old Fashioned. Needless to say, I’m not the first person to have this idea, and if you Google “Coffee Old Fashioned” you’ll find a few iterations, several of which use orange bitters. In fact I find it works well with chocolate bitters, orange bitters or regular Angostura bitters.

Coffee Old Fashioned
50–60ml bourbon (rye would doubtless work too)
15ml coffee liqueur
3-4 dashes of Angostura, orange or chocolate bitters (or a perhaps a combination)
Build in a tumbler with ice.


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