When it comes to cocktail trends, coffee drinks are big. Amaro, that category of bitter liqueurs long favored by the Italians, French and other Europeans, is too. Mixing them is also catching on. So it was only a matter of time before coffee and amaro merged in a single bottle — J. Rieger & Co.’s newly launched Caffé Amaro.
“I can’t believe no one’s done this before,” says Nathan Perry, J. Rieger’s head distiller. “People like amaro. People like coffee. So why has no one been making this?”
Probably because amaro is a more complex endeavor than your typical DIY sweet coffee liqueur. The J. Rieger team wanted something more in keeping with the coffee cordial Ryan Maybee, J. Rieger’s co-founder, has long made at Manifesto (which Maybee also co-owns). Expanding that bar-sized recipe into commercial quantities proved challenging, though.
Perry had to develop the right proportions of gentian, juniper, cardamom, vanilla, star anise, mint and orange peel, and then determine how long to macerate each in neutral grain spirits before blending them together to make the amaro base.
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“The different components and different steeping periods mean we have multiple tanks going at one time,” Perry says. “It’s by far the most involved product we make so far.”
Next, J. Rieger worked with Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters to match a coffee to those botanicals and figure out how to best capture its character — no easy feat when you’re making 90 gallons of cold-brew at a go, Perry says.
They settled on a coffee from Sumatra, which Thou Mayest co-owner Bo Nelson says works well because of its viscosity and minerality.
“It gives the botanicals they’re using something to grab onto,” says Nelson, an enthusiastic collaborator who’s also worked with Torn Label Brewing Company, Betty Rae’s Ice Cream and other culinary entrepreneurs to create unique coffee products.
The amaro base and coffee are combined, and then aged briefly in barrels that formerly held J. Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey. Finally, the liqueur is sweetened slightly with cane syrup. The result is an amaro with a dry, spicy, burnt orange aroma that is in keeping with its flavor — heavy spice at the beginning, a hint of vanilla and bitter orange on the back of the palate, all shot through with an integrated coffee flavor. That progression is fascinating on its own. Mixing it with tonic water, though, creates an even more balanced and refreshing coffee flavor.
“It works beautifully,” Maybee says of the Caffé Amaro and tonic. “That’s going to have to be my go-to cocktail with this product.”
Maybee also looks forward to experimenting with other traditional coffee cocktails, like Irish Coffee and the White Russian, as well as creating original drinks that showcase its bittersweet character. The amaro’s alcohol level—62 proof — will certainly hold up to mixing.
J. Rieger will be available at area retailers beginning Aug. 22, and the suggested retail price for a 750 milliliter bottle is $29.99.
“If you like bitter, you’re going to like this. If you like coffee, you’ll like this. It hits all those notes,” Perry says.
Anne Brockhoff is a freelance food writer and spirits columnist: ninmilefarm@gmail, @BlitheSpiritsKC
Caffé Amaro & Tonic
Mixing Caffé Amaro with tonic water is a favorite of Ryan Maybee’s (J. Rieger’s co-founder and co-owner of Manifesto). This deceptively simple drink showcases the cordial’s complex botanical and coffee character.
Makes 1 drink
1-1/2 ounces J. Rieger & Co. Caffé Amaro
3 to 4 ounces tonic water (Maybee prefers Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water)
orange peel, for garnish
Combine amaro and tonic water over ice in a Collins glass and garnish with orange peel.