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Turn Your Espresso Martini Into a Cold Brew Negroni
Turns out you don't have to use coffee liqueur either.
In a recent newsletter, I argued that you can make an Espresso Martini with gin instead of vodka and cold brew concentrate instead of homemade espresso.
The resulting drink, which consists of three equal parts — Kahlúa steps into the traditional coffee liqueur role — is quite clearly an Espresso Martini by lineage. But as I noted at the end of that newsletter, it also reads quite a bit like a Negroni, with a gin base, a sweet element, and a strong-and-bitter element in the form of the coffee.
So I thought: Why not just make some sort of cold brew-based Negroni, served on the rocks, and with some sort of bitter liqueur in the equation?
My first thought was to get rid of the Kahlúa and replace it with J. Rieger Caffe Amaro, a bitter coffee liqueur that splits the difference between coffee liqueur and bitter booze. The Rieger Caffe Amaro has a striking, unusual flavor that makes for some fascinatingly novel cocktails. But it’s also a somewhat difficult bottle to find, and it’s not something most people will get much use out of, which makes it somewhat hard to recommend for most home bartenders.
As I was working on this drink, however, I happened to have a sip of an Espresso Martini at The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in Nashville. (It’s a bit of a hike from the city core, but I highly recommend making the trip if you’re ever in the area.) The bar’s version was nicely done, with a giant foamy top, a really satisfyingly creamy texture, and a somewhat more herbal taste.
The drink was, per tradition, served up and based in vodka. According to the menu, the espresso element came from cold brew concentrate, just like the Espresso Martini I’d made.
But there was no coffee liqueur at all. Instead, the third primary ingredient was Averna, a rich and bittersweet amaro. There was also a little bit of sugar to help keep the sweetness at the right level.
It was pretty clear that the Averna was where the earthy, bitter flavor was coming from. And that’s what I wanted to use in my drink.
I still didn’t want to make a vodka-based Espresso Martini. The goal wasn’t to replicate the Fox Bar’s drink.
But the bar’s version helped me think through what I wanted from a more explicitly Negroni-like version of this drink. This is one reason why anyone who wants to make cocktails at home should try to go to great cocktail bars when they can: Even if you don’t come away with a recipe you want to replicate, if you pay attention to the menu, you’ll get ideas for making or improving your own creations.
As it turns out, the Cold Brew Negroni required just a tiny amount of structural tweaking, replacing the single ounce of Kahlúa in my Espresso Martini with ¾ ounce of Averna and ¼ ounce of rich (2:1) simple syrup. But the recipe was still pretty simple in the end.
The combination of Averna and syrup ended up playing a vermouth-like role in the drink. This might seem a little strange given that Averna is bittersweet and not a vermouth. But Averna is on the sweeter, richer side for a bottle of amaro, and there are times when it plays a vermouth-like role in other cocktails. And, of course, the additional sugar adds a bit of sweetness and some viscosity to the final drink.
This cocktail is pretty clearly a derivation of the Espresso Martini. But it’s also just as clearly a Negroni variation. It’s bitter and strong, with a seductively frothy texture and an earthy-sweet flavor. It still has great visual appeal. But it’s also relatively low in alcohol, especially for something with such a kick.
As with virtually all Negroni variations, this might not be for everyone, since some people just don’t like strong bitter flavors. But if you’re a coffee drinker or a Negroni fan, this is one you should try.
Cold Brew Negroni
¼ ounce rich (2:1) simple syrup*
¾ ounce Averna
1 ounce cold brew concentrate
1 ounce dry gin (Beefeater)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker.
Add ice, then shake until chilled.
Strain over a single large block of ice in rocks glass.
Garnish with an orange peel.
*Blend two parts sugar to one part water on high in a blender for about 90 seconds or until thoroughly integrated. Cool before use, then store in the refrigerator.
If you don’t have Averna, you can easily use Cynar (more vegetal), Contratto Bitter (more winter spice-forward), or Amaro CioCiaro (more orange-y) in that slot. You’ll end up with a different flavor profile for each, but the drink will still work pretty well.
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