There was a time when an espresso martini was the ultimately chic drink at the bar.
That time was the mid-’90s, the heyday of “Sex & the City” and the Cosmo. That’s when every flavored martini drink was chic, poured into glasses the exact size and shape of a dog’s surgical cone. With the advent of speakeasies, those drinks fell out of favor as fast as a designer fanny pack.
But the current freewheeling cocktail culture, in which everything from classic gin drinks to neon-colored concoctions is fair game, it’s time for an espresso martini renaissance. It’s the perfect holiday season drink: The combination of caffeine and alcohol can power people through intensive party schedules.
Espresso martinis also make sense because it’s hard not to find the namesake ingredient-good quality coffee-these days. Plus, a lot of talented bartenders these days have barista roots, as if they’ve long been training to make a stellar version of the drink.
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There’s one place where the espresso martini has been going strong for years. At the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland, Maine, the beverage has been a surprise hit since it appeared on the menu in early 2015. This version features an unconventional local specialty, Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy.
“We wanted to integrate Maine’s No. 1-selling spirit, Allen’s Coffee Brandy, into our menu without being too highbrow about it,” says owner Andrew Volk. “Allen’s and Milk is not only the biggest-selling cocktail in Maine, there’s a whole culture-and think pieces written-about it.” (The standard thinking about the popularity of Allen’s is that it’s a sweet, strong, inexpensive spirit made in nearby Massachusetts, which lobstermen put in their coffee to keep warm; Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is challenging it.)
“It’s the greatest espresso martini in the world,” says mixologist Jackson Cannon of Boston’s excellent bar, the Hawthorne. “By being true to their approach to sourcing and DIY, they landed on a drink that-while faithful to its origins-is richer and more expressive than the original.”
To make this version, Volk tweaked a recipe from the drink’s creator, London bartender Dick Bradsell. In addition to the Allen’s, he substitutes white rum for vodka to enrich the drink; Volk recommends Plantation Three Stars. “We rewrite our cocktail list every other month, but ever since the espresso martini was put on the menu, we’ve found we cannot write it off the menu,” says Volk.
In their recent cookbook/cocktail guide, Northern Hospitality with the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club (Voyageur Press, August 2018), Andrew and his wife Briana Volk shared their recipe. If you can’t find Allen’s, Volk recommends the coffee-flavored brandy from House Spirits in Portland, Oregon. Tequila-based Patron XO works as does the new Mr. Black cold-brew coffee liquor. (Kahlúa will work in a pinch, too, but use less of it because it’s quite sweet). The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club’s drink also uses a sweetened cold brew coffee concentrate. The recipe below is adapted.
Yield: Makes 2 cocktails
6 oz. freshly brewed espresso, chilled
3 oz. (or to taste) coffee-flavored liqueur, preferably Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy
3 oz. white rum
2 oz. simple syrup (see note)
In a large cocktail shaker, combine all the ingredients, except the ice. Add ice and shake well. Strain into chilled glasses, preferably old school martini glasses, and serve.
Note: Simple syrup is made by dissolving equal parts of sugar in water. You can use 1 cup of each and keep leftover syrup in the fridge for a month.