DIY Coffee Liqueur

Allen's coffee brandyThis morning, my local paper reported that Allen's Coffee Brandy is still the best-selling liquor in the state of Maine. It's such a big seller, in fact, that it holds four of the top ten spots for liquor sales in Maine. The little sidebar news story brought back a lot of memories for me and reminded me that I've been meaning to share my recipe for homemade coffee liqueur.

These days, it's practically a given that if you order a Sombrero or a White Russian or almost any other cocktail made with coffee liqueur, the bartender will reach for the Kahlua. Not so when I first started hitting the bar scene. Back then, a Sombrero was made with coffee brandy, preferably Allen's Coffee Brandy, and it's still the way I prefer my Somberos. Or was, until I started experimenting with making my own coffee liqueurs at home. It's not only amazingly simple, it makes a far superior coffee drink. If you know how to make a simple syrup, coffee liqueur is a breeze.

A couple of notes:

The liquor you use makes a big difference. For the most intense coffee flavor, use vodka. If you like the smooth sweetness of Kahlua, make the liqueur with high-quality rum. Brandy gives your liqueur a sharp bite that's beautiful in milk-based drinks like Sombreros and White Russans. Don't be afraid to experiment with flavored liquors. Ginger brandy makes a spectacular gingered coffee liqueur and vanilla vodka -- well, you just have to try it.

Likewise,  your choice of sugar will make a difference in the flavor of your finished liqueur. White sugar works, but doesn't give much flavor at all. Turbinado, demerara or raw sugar add a hint of molasses and give your liqueur a richer, deeper flavor. Brown sugar and dark brown sugar really deepen the flavors and give your finished product an almost buttery, silky feel.

Cold brew your coffee. Cold-brewed coffee is less bitter and has less acid than hot brewing methods. It also retains more flavor than coffee brewed with hot water, which tends to lose flavor as it cools. I'm thinking of giving it a try using a Captain's Cold Brew because I keep hearing such good things about it.

If you want to try spices, add them to the syrup, not the coffee. Conversely, if you want to take the really easy way out, substitute your favorite coffee flavoring syrups for homemade simple syrup. 

Finally, this is a quick recipe -- it only ages 3 days and will keep for a couple of months. Bottle it up in a pretty bottle and take it along to your next dinner party as a hostess gift or slap your own labels on a few bottles to give them as gifts to friends. 

DIY Coffee Liqueur


  • 1 cup finely ground coffee
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/4 cups rum, vodka, brandy or whiskey


  • Covered Pitcher
  • Coffee Filter
  • Saucepan
  • Covered Jar

  1. Combine coffee and 4 cups of water in a covered pitcher. Stir to mix the coffee grounds into the water. Cover the pitcher and put it in the refrigerator to brew for at least 12 hours.
  2. Strain the coffee through a coffee filter or fine cloth into a clean pitcher. Set it aside.
  3. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water. Add cinnamon and anise.
  4. Heat over a low flame until the mixture just comes to a boil.
  5. Remove the syrup from the heat and let it come to room temperature. Remove the anise and cinnamon stick.
  6. Gently mix together the cooled syrup, the strained coffee, the liquor and the vanilla bean in a covered jar or glass pitcher.
  7. Let steep in a cool, dark place for three days.
  8. Remove the vanilla bean and decant into bottles.

ed. to add liquor to the 6th step because I really need a proofreader. Thanks, jbviau!

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