Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy is Maine’s Favorite Spirit
How to use the “Champagne of Maine” to make warming winter cocktails.
I remember my first Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy sighting. We were in northern Maine, and the snow was slowly starting to melt as the spring sun thawed out the terrain. On a hike along the side of a snowmobile track, I saw the neck and cap of a bottle that would soon become iconic in my mind. Without realizing it then, I had seen my very first “lily of the tundra,” the term used for Allen’s bottles that have been thrown out on the trails over the winter and emerge as the snow melts in spring.
Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy has had a stronghold on the Maine spirits market for decades. In 2018 there was one bottle of it sold in the state for every man, woman, and child. However, when you leave Maine, you may be hard-pressed to find a bottle—or a non-Mainer who has heard of it, let alone consumed it. Many cities and states have locally famous food or beverages that are mostly unknown or unavailable beyond a geographical line. Pennsylvania has its scrapple, New Orleans has its king cake, Chicago has its Malört, and Maine has its Allen’s Coffee Brandy.
According to M.S. Walker, the Boston-based producer of Allen’s, the popularity of the spirit started with Maine fishermen who would use it as a pick-me-up by adding it to their morning coffee. Most of Allen’s is poured in homes or locals’ bars. Mixed with an equal amount of milk it’s known as a Sombrero, or by many other, generally off-color, nicknames. But over the last few years, we have seen Allen’s make its way onto highbrow cocktail menus across the state.
Hayley Wilson, cofounder of the cocktail popup Jimmy Drinks World, has embraced Allen’s since her move from Boston to Maine four years ago. “I love using Allen’s in unexpected cocktails,” she says. “It works beautifully in stirred, spirit-forward tequila drinks, pairs well with amari for an extra bite, and is always fun to mix with rums.” Wilson says her favorite 50/50 shot to give to guests is Allen’s plus Plantation pineapple rum. “Coffee and pineapple are such a great combo,” she says. “Who knew!” Allen’s fanbase is certainly growing with a new generation of Mainers.
When opening Hunt and Alpine, co-owner Andrew Volk wanted to make a riff on the now classic espresso martini, made famous in the hopping 80s London bar scene by a bartender named Dick Bradsell. The story goes that young women preparing for an evening out approached Bradsell’s bar and asked for a drink that would “wake me up and then f*** me up.” For Volk’s version at Hunt and Alpine, his challenge was to create a cocktail that stood up to other espresso martinis but didn’t require an espresso machine. The end result, which Volk also made with a nod to the local food scene, is a cocktail that has remained on the menu since Hunt and Alpine first opened. Jackson Cannon, the co-owner of Boston’s beloved and recently closed bar Eastern Standard, and of the soon-to-open Equal Measures, calls it, “the greatest espresso martini in the world.”
Though Allen’s is inexpensive, its coffee extract comes from higher quality Arabica beans. Simple to make at home, you can easily scale up this recipe to make in larger batches for parties.
Yield: 1 drink
Glass: chilled martini or coupe
2 ounces sweetened coffee concentrate (Hunt and Alpine makes theirs in-house using Tandem coffee, but you can also buy this in stores)
1 ounce white rum
1 ounce Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy
Add the coffee concentrate, rum, and Allen’s to a mixing tin.
Add ice to the tin and shake hard for 30 to 45 seconds.
Fine-strain into a chilled glass. Drink immediately.
Named after the town in Maine, this drink is based on popular spirits from both Mexico (the country) and Maine (the state). It’s a perfect cold-weather cocktail and loves fried foods. Enjoy around a warm winter campfire.
Yield: 1 drink
Glass: chilled rocks glass
1 ½ ounces blanco tequila
½ ounce mezcal
½ ounce Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy
1 teaspoon agave syrup
6 dashes coffee bitters (Maine-based Coastal Root makes a great one)
Orange peel, for garnish
Add the tequila, mezcal, Allen’s, agave, and bitters to a well-chilled rocks glass.
Add one large ice cube, and then stir for 20-30 seconds.
Garnish with an expressed orange peel.
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