Perhaps the drinks on the table before us were an inevitability. After all, if one trend is good (cold coffee is hot), why not layer on another (millennials love alcoholic drinks that don’t taste like booze) ? and then another (they also are crazy for canned beverages) for good measure?
A turducken of fads is one way of seeing the mini-boomlet of iced coffee laced with varying degrees of malt or wine-based liquor and served in the slender aluminum tubes that have come to dominate the beverage aisles ? a trend for which you can thank/blame the hard seltzer phenomenon White Claw.
Beer giant Pabst Blue Ribbon was one of the first big entrants, introducing its hard coffee this summer. Then the third-wave coffee maker La Colombe partnered up with MillerCoors for its high-end, cold-brewed version. Both are available in limited markets as the companies test demand. Smaller labels, too, have gotten into the mix.
Another explanation for it is purely functional. Booze might be fun, but it can make you sleepy, too, so pairing it with caffeine keeps the good times going. As one colleague described the downers/uppers mix: “It’s the Judy Garland of drinks.”
The marriage of alcohol and caffeine isn’t new, of course. Irish coffee crossed the pond a decade before aging rocker Bono was even born. The espresso martini followed in the 1980s (its perhaps apocryphal origin story is that legendary London bartender Dick Bradsell created it when a supermodel ? some tales say Naomi Campbell, others Kate Moss ? ordered something “to wake me up, then [expletive] me up.”)
In more recent history, the combo brings to mind the vodka-Red Bull craze of the early aughts and Four Loko, whose early formulation was dubbed “blackout in a can” and eventually banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010.
So, back to those drinks on the table. We assembled four varieties of boozy cold coffees and gave them a whirl ? and a few sips. As a class, our tasters found them to be super-sweet and overly creamy, with one exception. But the overriding response was simply …confusion.
When, exactly, were we supposed to knock back these drinks? The sugar and dairy bombs are hardly light, session-able tipples. And they don’t pair very well with food, except maybe brunch, as one taster suggested. Or dessert? Maybe in place of dessert, we wondered? We imagined combining them with ice cream in shakes and affogato-style concoctions ? but wait, wasn’t the can format supposed to make them take-anywhere convenient?