Whiskey Coffee

By Fred Minnick


It’s cold. You need coffee. It’s warm. You need coffee. It’s hotter than a welder’s tungsten torch. You need coffee. Every morning, coffee drinkers wake up to the need—no, the love—for coffee.

But there’s something even better—whiskey coffee.

In fact, these two are historically tied at the hip. Wherever there were coffee importers, whiskey dealers hung out, and both have been vilified to the point of political banning efforts. Take this excerpt from the Scammon Journal in Kansas in 1904, for example: “It is a matter of daily history testified by literally millions of people that whiskey, tobacco, and coffee are smiling, promising, beguiling friends on the start, but always fast as hell itself in the end. Once they get firm hold enough to show their strength, they insist upon governing…”

Well, the author wasn’t totally wrong, but the combo “hell” surely was a lie. I mean, have you ever camped out overnight, made fresh coffee, poured whiskey in it, and smoked a cigar? It’s heaven! This is a must for your next adventure. And it begins with the coffee!

PERFECT COFFEE: I find that coffee preference drives many things in life, from where you eat breakfast to what route you take to your kid’s ball game. Can’t get stranded with “2 bucks for 2” gas station coffee. So, choose what you like for this, but the bolder you go, the heftier the whiskey you need.

Because we are familiar with Starbucks, I like to use their coffee as a base for mixing with whiskey. Veranda is light, Pike’s Place is smooth and rich, and Sumatra is bold and heavy.

Your coffee will strip out a lot of the whiskey flavor and often give you just an alcohol taste. That’s why you have to pick out the right whiskey to pair with your coffee. You also cannot serve the coffee too cold or too hot.

If the coffee is cold, the whiskey will dominate the coffee, and you’ll really not enjoy its natural bean flavor. If it’s too hot, like over 185 degrees, not only will you scorch your tongue, but you’ll sweat out the alcohol. Coffee isn’t too far away from boiling, and whiskey doesn’t want heat.

PICKING YOUR WHISKEY: Selecting the perfect whiskey has as much to do with proof as it does with the flavor. The alcohol percentage needs to complement the coffee’s flavor.

For the lighter coffees, proof should be 90 to 100. If it’s higher, you’ll have a mouthful of alcohol, as the coffee neutralizes the whiskey’s nuance and gives you alcohol. If it’s lower, you’ll only taste the coffee.

For medium to bold coffees, just completely ignore anything under 100 proof. That means no Woodford Reserve, regular Bushmills, or Johnnie Walker. You need proof!

I firmly believe that all mixing bourbons are best in the 107-proof range, but for medium to bold coffee, optimal range is 101 and above.

If you’re into Scotch, the smoke of peated whiskies overrides the proof theory. That smoke is so intense that it complements the bolder coffees.

These rules hold true in the Thermos or in the coffee cup. But if you batch in your Thermos, make sure you give it a good shake before pouring, as the whiskey drops to the bottom.

THE PAIRING: For Veranda or other lighter coffees, I love Irish whiskeys, which are often subtle with honey notes. The lightness of these styles can be easily overpowered, but you don’t want something that will underwhelm you. Look for Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, or Jameson to fill your cup with these expressions.

When you go up a notch to the league of Pike’s Place, think bourbon or rye. That new charred-oak goodness really goes nicely with these medium bodies. And I’m a man who loves Wild Turkey in his medium-bodied coffee. I daresay Wild Turkey 101 and Pike’s Place might be my favorite combo. Try it and let me know what you think.

When you get to the super-bold, go straight to Islay and match its boldness with peat. Laphroaig 10-year-old and the smoke of Sumatra are a combo meant for your next hunt.

As for the measurements, 1½ ounces of whiskey per cup of coffee should do the trick. But hey, you know you: Pour as much whiskey as you like.

Michael Eman
Official Contributor
Kevin Gibson is a free-lance writer who writes for numerous publications, including Bourbon+ magazine, Thrillist, and Alcohol Professor.