Water of Life

IMG_1648My father used to make all kinds of insane liqueurs. I’m not quite sure of the technique, but it involved large jugs of the cheapest vodka, fruit of various types, sugar and exceedingly sketchy reclaimed liquor bottles. He’d label them in magic marker over the original labels, written in English and Chinese: pear, strawberry, peach and “pearch” (pear + peach). He would bring them out at the end of our dinner parties and offer tastes in the little crystal liqueur glasses my mom got on close out from one of the nice stores in town. For my twenty-first birthday I asked him to make me a batch of coffee liqueur, which he did. He didn’t make much because he didn’t care for coffee, but I remember it being good.

I don’t drink much coffee myself anymore, but my husband always has a number of bags of coffee floating around. Usually it’s the pre-ground stuff, but one time we ended up with a bag of whole beans. I think it was flavored, and included in a swag bag I got about a year ago from a speaking gig. We don’t have a coffee grinder and my husband despises flavored coffee. So the coffee festered in the back of the cupboard for a really long time. (Because we both come from hoarder stock and wouldn’t just pitch the dang beans).

I saw something on the internet recently that suggested a lot of people are trying a recipe for homemade Bailey’s this winter. I haven’t looked up the recipe, but yesterday as I was rooting around for something in my kitchen, I remembered the old coffee beans. I put them in some water and sugar and boiled them, added unsweetened cocoa powder and dumped them in a mason jar with more sugar. Then I poured “eau de vie” over them. I’ve decided to call moonshine (or slivovitz) “eau de vie” because it sounds fancier, but it’s all basically the same thing: distill your extra harvest and try not to poison yourself, your kin or your neighbors. And eau de vie was what I had on hand. My husband said the product was going to taste vile because all the good flavors had evaporated out of the beans. I figured that’s what sugar is for.


After 24 hours or so, I poured the mess through a coffee filter. Then I poured a cup or so IMG_1658of milk over it to get the dregs out into a separate glass. I decided against adding milk to the coffee liqueur, although I assume that these Bailey’s recipes call for milk (or half and half). The milk rinsed over the coffee beans came out very tasty (even my husband agreed). The coffee infusion is a bit thick and opaque, but it’s pretty good too: slightly fruity from the eau de vie, not to sweet and definitely coffee flavored. Not vile at all.

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