This is an unusual flavour combination. The usual reaction is: coffee? with damsons?? (thinking: has he finally lost it?). But I think it might be a winner, and certainly something novel to use up the damsons this year. Coffee and berries do complement one another well, with the sweetness of the fruit offsetting the bitterness of the coffee, and a fruity, tannic edge matching the natural fruitiness of lighter coffees. In this recipe I am using cold brew coffee, so as to make the most of the floral, fruity flavours in the coffee, with quite a pure flavour missing some the harshness of a traditional brewed coffee.
The big brands in coffee liqueurs are Kahlúa and Tia Maria. Kalhlua hails from 1930s Mexico, and Tia Maria from 1940s Jamaica. Both are a mixture of rum, coffee and and sugar, with the addition of vanilla. Like many liqueurs, Tia Maria has several fanciful origin stories, ranging from a beautiful Spanish aristocrat fleeing Jamaica in the 17th century with a hand-written family recipe, to a Jamaican politician, journalist and friend of Ian Fleming’s trying to recreate a recipe of his aunt’s (tía is aunt in Spanish). But I think the more interesting story is the rise of Kahlúa in the 1960s, led by Maria del Pilar Gutierrez Sesma and for a period an all-women management team (highly unusual at the time). She joined a little known brand as one of 7 employees and went on to oversee operations for over 30 years for what is now a staple behind every bar, especially with the surging popularity of the espresso martini.
This recipe uses a golden Jamaican rum, demerara sugar (a raw sugar that has a slightly caramel flavour) and damsons. It’ll begin brown when you first mix it up, but after sitting with the damsons for a couple of months it’ll go a deep red. The taste is quite sweet – I’d likely reduce the sugar content if making it again – but then coffee liqueurs do tend to be pretty sweet. It smells initially quite fruity, with a back note of coffee. Sweetness hits you first, and the slightly more bitter edge of the coffee comes in last. This promises to be a crowd-pleasing gift, like a good damson gin (as opposed to the various quite bitter damson amaros that are more of an acquired taste).
The quantities below make two small 250ml bottles, as this was a bit of an experiment, but can easily be scaled up.
Damson Coffee Liqueur
A sweet coffee and damson liqueur. Nice for sipping in the winter, or a home-made substitute for Kahlua or Tia Maria with a more complex flavour profile.
125ml cold brew concentrate (see below)
125ml demerara syrup (see below)
250ml golden Jamaican rum (I used Appleton Estate Signature)
½ tsp vanilla essence
- Cold brew concentrate
25g coarse ground coffee
- Demerara syrup
125ml demerara sugar
- Cold brew coffee concentrate
- Mix the coffee with the water in a jar and then leave in the fridge overnight. Coffee ground for cafetieres tends to be coarse – coffee for espresso machines will be too fine
- Filter using a paper or gold coffee filter. This concentrate can safely keep in the fridge for a few days. You can use any cold brew coffee concentrate recipe, as the strength varies (and the resulting caffeine content!).
- Sugar syrup
- Mix the sugar and water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved
- Leave to cool
- Mix 125ml of the coffee concentrate with the sugar syrup, add the rum, vanilla and damsons
- Leave to steep for around 2 months
- Remove the damsons, filter using fine cheesecloth and bottle