What were you doing in 2006? It was not an incredibly memorable year overall, but some major events happened. It started off with the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Italy had a big year that year, also beating France in the World Cup 5-3. The St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Heat, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Carolina Hurricanes all took the championships in their respective sports. The Oscar that year went to Crash and the Grammy for Album of the Year was U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. The population of the United States hit 300 million in population that year as well. It was not all fun and games that year, though. Poor Pluto lost its planetary status that year, and Western Union sent its last telegram. YouTube played its last video independently that year, as it was bought by Google. James Brown, Steve Irwin, Don Knotts, Lou Rawls, and Coretta Scott King all passed away that year as well. But to end it on a good note, gas prices were only $2.59 on average for the whole year.
Why do events that happened seven years ago matter in a column that is about cocktails and liquor? Seven years ago some coffee beans and sugar cane, growing side by side, began a journey that would lead them to become a bottle of coffee liqueur better known of Kahlua. The coffee plant is what takes the longest time to grow, taking up to seven years for the Arabica coffee plant to reach maturity and produce coffee cherries. After the coffee is harvested, the beans are removed from the cherry and dried for at least six months before roasting, to get the proper flavor. While the coffee is being prepared, the neighboring sugar cane (which matures much faster) is being crushed so the juice can be collected and fermented; similar to how rum is created. When coffee is roasted and the sugar cane juice is fermented, the two are blended together with some caramel and vanilla flavors to create the second most distinct liquor to come out of Mexico.
The company celebrated its Mexican heritage all through its growth. The flirting began in Veracruz, in the south of Mexico on the Gulf. In 1930 the Alvarez brothers offered their premium coffee to a local man experimenting with making spirits. Things became serious in 1936, when the spirit was created and started to be sold. Its popularity blossomed over the next few decades, the final marriage of all the ingredients coming to fruition in 1962 before taking off in the United States through the mid 1960’s.The explosive growth in North America spawned multiple pretenders to the throne including lower quality versions like Kapali, Kamora, Copa De Oro, and deKuyper’s Crème de Café. Some well known coffee brands, like Starbucks and illy, also tried to get into the coffee liqueur game. Patron makes their XO Café, which is a blend of tequila and coffee. It is made in the same manner as Kahlua, but the tequila changes the flavor profile a bit. As many imitators as there are, there ain’t nothing like the real thing.
Kahlua (meaning “House of the Acolhua people” in Nahuatl) has maintained its 20% ABV and slight caffeine content (about 1/10th of what a cup of coffee has) throughout its history. It has branched out into new flavors as the years have passed. They offer the original coffee flavor, as well as a more intense (and higher proof) Especial. On top of the Especial, they also have a 35% ABV Midnight, the strongest liqueur they have in their line. Staying close to the coffee flavor theme, they also offer Mocha, adding a hint of chocolate to the coffee, and a special holiday Peppermint Mocha. To round out their flavor offerings they have Hazelnut, French Vanilla, and Cinnamon Spice. Kahlua, and all of its many flavors, are sipped nicely on the rocks. So nicely, in fact, that one of the first mainstream cocktails made with Kahlua was the Black Russian, using two parts of vodka with the Kahlua over ice. A simple addition of cream or milk will make a White Russian, made famous in The Big Lebowski. It is also a key ingredient in any version of the Espresso Martini. It is prominently featured in shots like the Baby Guinness and B-52. Of course, it also goes very well in a nice cup of coffee.
February 27th is National Kahlua Day, and the coffee that was planted in 2006 is now sitting in bottles, waiting to be enjoyed. There are plenty of cocktails you can try with this sweet coffee liqueur, or just enjoy it on the rocks. As an Ohioan you get an added benefit: Kahlua can be sold on our great state at 21.5%, slightly higher than the rest of the world. Just another thing to celebrate today! Cheers!