After six years in production as one of the only cold brew coffee liqueurs on the market, Australia-based Mr Black is expanding its range with a series of Single Origin expressions. The company said each release will focus on coffee from a specific region, working with local farmers to ensure no two batches are the same.
The first $49 expression hails from Colombia, and rolled out in November. Only 6,000 bottles were produced globally, with 600 available in the US at Astor Wine & Spirits and upscale restaurants like Dante, Eleven Madison Park and Gran Tivoli.
The coffee was grown by Luis Aníbal Calderón on his family farm, which has been growing coffee for the last 60 years. For the past 12 years, they have specifically focused on specialty coffee.
Mr Black co-founder Tom Baker told BeverageDaily, “We’re lucky enough to know a lot of growers personally, and have access to hundreds of truly exceptional coffees. For us, it’s not a decision of ‘if’ to release one - it’s how many.”
Coffee for night-time drinking occasions
The brand says it’s dedicated to bringing craft coffee into the night, and educating the role of coffee in the modern bar and the importance of coffee to modern drinking. Using coffee from a single region allows for concentrated quality and transparency, making each release unique.
“We’re thrilled for Mr Black to be supporting small-scale farmers and local communities as well as to clear a path for serious coffee lovers to access the world’s finest sustainably grown coffee, combined with our refined neutral grain spirit,” Baker said.
“Before Mr Black, coffee liqueurs were over-sweetened and full of fake, candy flavors. Our Single Origin puts real, specialty coffee on a pedestal.”
Baker said Mr Black products appeal to consumers who love coffee and are fond of drinking, as coffee is a ‘culturally significant and complex ingredient.’ He believes bartenders are only just now beginning to understand the role it plays in modern cocktails, and craft variety plays a role in that education.
Mr Black is not described as a functional drink, but with “a little natural coffee funk, balanced with notes of figs, chocolate, and dark berries.” Each 750ml bottle has a 25% ABV.
“If you want to stay awake, a Red Bull will do a much better job. If you want to have a discerning, craft spirit or cocktail - albeit with a little bit of a pep - Mr Black is for you. Thankfully, while we do contain caffeine, it’s not enough to ruin your chance of getting a good night’s sleep,” Baker said.
Investing in quality ingredients and process
While coffee-adjacent liqueurs like Kahlua and Baileys have been mainstream for years in the US, more recently there’s been a surge in ‘hard coffee’ products. Usually from a flavored malt (FMB) base, brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon and La Colombe have introduced canned boozy coffees this year.
But Baker isn’t sure these caffeinated concepts are the future of coffee in alcohol. He believes a stricter focus on taste quality and a limited portfolio of spirits is more likely to resonate with coffee lovers.
“I’ve yet to try a coffee FMB that I’d buy more than once. I’m quite sure they’re not the way forward. I get the convenience, but the quality isn’t there. The depth of flavor isn’t there. With spirits, we can invest more into ingredients, into process, and make a product that literally ‘wow’s’ people,” he said.
The original Mr Black is a bittersweet blend of Arabica coffees and Australian wheat vodka, made with half the sugar and ten times the coffee of old-world liqueurs. It’s currently produced at the company coffee roastery and distillery just north of Sydney.
Baker said the brand’s expansion into the US has been successful, as “the US appetite for quality coffee apparently knows no bounds.” It is sold in 14 states at more than 4,000 distribution points. Outside of the US and its home market of Australia, Mr Black has distributors in the UK, Europe and Asia.