The first summer I was 21, I found myself working in a new city. Striding into bars was a new skill for most of our crew that summer, and traveling in packs to play pool or stuff a jukebox with songs no one else wanted to hear was our primary form of night-off entertainment. I'd been drinking cheap beer (and fruity Smirnoff Ice) at parties for a while, but my experience with mixed drinks was pretty limited, and to be honest, I didn't really know what drinks I liked. I don't know what got the Black Russian into my head, but somehow the combination of Kahlua and vodka, sometimes with cream to make a White Russian, seemed like a good go-to. I made my mind up and ordered these drinks everywhere I went.
I drank Black Russians while bowling, while dancing, while listening to people read poetry, before eating pizza and after sneaking off to the beach. When summer was up, I went back to the Natty Light of college parties and started to poke around the local wine shop.
I'd forgotten the Black Russian completely until I opened a bottle of St. George Spirits' new NOLA Coffee Liqueur, a bottling inspired by New Orleans-style chicory flavored coffee. If you like Blue Bottle's chicory-laced cold brew (or Sweetleaf's iced Rocket Fuel), this is a liqueur you should definitely check out.
It's made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans roasted by Jewel Box Coffee in Oakland and ground in the distillery's grain mill. The coffee is cold-brewed in water and vodka, and then the resulting infusion is distilled. St. George distiller Dave Smith says this process concentrates the aromatics, helping to "capture the largest spectrum of aromatic top notes, mid notes, and bass notes" from the coffee. They handle chicory root and fresh Madagascar vanilla beans separately, creating a chicory distillate and custom vanilla extract for blending.
The chicory and vanilla add a sweet and earthy flavor to the mellow, smooth liqueur, bringing it right in line, flavor-wise, with the Blue Bottle potion. It has a full coffee flavor, with layers of roastiness, but the bitterness is rounded off with a sweet finish.
This coffee liqueur doesn't need doctoring with vodka or cream, though it's actually completely delicious with both—the vodka amps up the heat and the cream cools things down. You could play with adding amaro for fun, but the classic on ice is pretty hard to find problems with after all these years.