The idea to create vodka infused with coffee was an obvious one for Glass Vodka founding owner Ian MacNeil. “First and foremost, I’m a coffee geek,” he tells me over the phone from his office at Glass Vodka Seattle distillery.
A long-time lover of all things coffee, with a weakness for both espresso and French press-style drinks, Ian became even more enthralled with the art of coffee-making when his friend gifted him a coffee roaster in 2003. “I learned that there’s a huge difference between coffee that you’ve roasted yourself and drink within three days and coffee that is roasted commercially,” he explains. He likens it to a sun-ripened tomato eaten off of the vine versus a tomato purchased in the grocery store.
The coffee MacNeil chose for Glass’s Kona Vodka is the Hapuna Kehai blend, made from beans grown under the Hawaiian sun at a single estate on the Big Island which are hand-roasted in small batches by Seven Coffee Roasters in Ballard, Washington.
Like all good things, MacNeil’s technique for making coffee-infused vodka developed over time, and involved much trial and error. His experimentation began in 2014, when he poured whole fresh Hapuna Kihei coffee beans into a mixture of vodka and water and let them steep for two weeks in a stainless steel barrel, stirring them every few days.
“Chemically it was a slow extraction of all of the flavor and colors from the beans,” MacNeil explains. Next, he put that mixture into a charred oak barrel, and left it for another five to ten days. “The charred oak barrel imparts this vanilla caramel sort of toasted note to the product, and it makes you think that it’s going to be sweet, but it’s not…So when you taste the vodka you get this smooth espresso and then it finishes like vodka, ” he continues.
Over time MacNeil’s initial technique proved to be labor-intensive and expensive, so the entrepreneur developed a new vodka recipe using cold-brew coffee. Vodka is normally “proofed” by adding water to it before it is sold, but using cold brew coffee means the coffee flavor is “injected” into the vodka along with the water.
Next, MacNeil barrel ages the vodka for ten days, resulting in a rich, dark-colored coffee-flavored vodka that is not sweet but does have sweet and caramel notes.
MacNeil says the vodka gets rave review from people who love coffee, including himself, who enjoys Glass Kona Vodka neat. Glass Kona Vodka also makes a beautiful White Russian. The crème de la crème, though, is The Hummer, a creamy, cold, espresso flavored blended drink that MacNeil makes a huge batch of to serve guests at his family’s Whistler chalet after a day on the slopes.
Here’s Ian MacNeil’s personal Hummer recipe:
¼ gallon of your favourite vanilla ice cream
½ a bottle of Glass Kona Vodka
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
3 tbsp. of your favourite chocolate syrup
A handful of ice
1 cup of milk
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into martini glasses and dust with cocoa powder. Enjoy!
Glass Kona Vodka is currently being featured in Glass Vodka’s Valentine’s Gift Box, which includes a pot of chocolate ganache, two Champagne flutes and two gold spoons, among other goodies. It’s available for purchase in-store or online.