They may be Maine best-sellers, but you’re not likely to see Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy or Fireball Cinnamon Whisky show up on the menus of many (any?) of Portland’s coolest cocktail bars. Such places pride themselves on fresh-squeezed juices; backyard and foraged ingredients; hand-crafted, top-shelf spirits and bitters; and custom ice cubes. We’re pretty sure we’re on solid ground when we say that today’s serious cocktail aficionados consider Allen’s and Fireball, well, déclassé.
So we were pleased that Jaren Rivas, bar manager of Tipo in Portland, was not only good-humored but genuinely up for our challenge: create a tasty cocktail, something we’d actually want to drink with each of these spirits – even if we were no longer chugging at a frat party or mixing it with milk. If he preferred, we said, he could make one drink using both spirits. There was a pause at the other end of the phone when we suggested that, followed by a quiet. “That’s a stretch.”
He developed two drinks.
“I like to take spirits that people don’t take so seriously, and it’s almost a challenge for me to use them legitimately, so that discerning cocktail enthusiasts could approach them as they would any serious cocktail,” said Rivas, who moved to Portland from South Beach. “They are guilty pleasure sort of spirits anyway.”
(Wait. So he knew of Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy before he got here? “Only because of my girlfriend. She was up here first and she sent me a bottle of it in the mail. ‘The champagne of Maine,’ she said.”)
Allen’s turned out to be the more difficult challenge because it is low alcohol and “essentially sugar and coffee flavor.” His first idea was to make something based on the tiki drink the Jungle Bird. “I completely scrapped it and did something else at the end. It just didn’t work. It did NOT work. If flavors get too muddy or too one-note, you just start over.”
Ultimately, Rivas added herbacious flavors to cut the sugary quality of the brandy, and molasses flavors to underline its coffee notes. His Woo Carré, he said, is “definitely a winter warmer.”
The Fireball presented its own obstacles, namely “a sort of processed flavor” and an “almost candy-like cinnamon spice….To bring that out or to mute it to where it can complement other items, you have to be very careful with your sweetness and your citrus,” Rivas said. “It’s a delicate balance to try to rein it in.”
He tried out his newly developed Allen’s and Fireball cocktails on co-workers, and he managed to fool a few of them, too. Plus, he had a lot of fun creating the drinks. Still, he won’t be adding them to Tipo’s bar program anytime soon (or possibly ever). “These spirits,” he said, “have a time and a place.”
WHEELER’S SPICED PUNCH
Jaren Rivas, bar manager at Tipo, named the drink for a character from “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” a 1990s animated environmentalist television show. In the show, Wheeler is a red-headed American kid who represents fire.
- 1.25 oz Fireball Cinnamon Whisky
- .5 oz Calvados
- .75 oz cherry/longpepper cordial
- .75 oz lemon juice
- 2 dashes cranberry bitters
- 2 dashes Boker’s bitters
- Amarena cherry
Pour all but the cherry in a mixing tin or shaker mixing glass with ice. Shake and double-strain into a coupe with a splash of soda water. Garnish with the Amarena cherry.
The Vieux Carré (French Quarter), a classic New Orleans drink, inspired Rivas’ Woo Carré. “The woo part comes from – at bars we get woo girls,” Rivas said. “They go to the bar and have a couple of drinks and they go ‘Woooo!’ ”
- .75 oz Allen’s Coffee Brandy
- .75 oz Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum
- .75 oz Cocchi di Torino Sweet Vermouth
- .25 oz Benedictine Liqueur
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- Lemon peel
Combine all the ingredients but the lemon peel in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Garnish with lemon peel.