St Ali is making its foray into its own dedicated alcohol range with the ultimate nightcap: espresso martinis, coffee liqueur, and a gin that presents St Ali coffee like you’ve never seen before.
The weather is warming, the days are longer, and Australian roaster St Ali has been busy developing a new range of liquor that embraces its trademark flair for flavour with an extra punch that will take its fan base from day to night.
“We’re at the business end of the year, we’re starting to unwind and catch up with friends, and we really wanted to embrace Summer with the launch of our new products,” says St Ali CEO Lachlan Ward.
“There’s been lots of collaborations between roasters and beer or whiskey manufacturers over the years, but no roaster has really gone to market with their own dedicated, roaster-driven product in the liquor space. That’s why we’ve been working on our range for quite some time.”
The result is the St Ali Espresso Martini, a ready-to-drink (RTD) canned product alongside the St Ali Coffee Liqueur, which Lachlan says is the perfect addition to any bar.
“Our Espresso Martini was a no brainer product. It’s the most popular cocktail in almost every bar around the world, so we saw this cocktail as a natural first step and a great starting point in the liquor space,” he says.
The RTD product is made using St Ali’s Wide Awake blend as cold brew, in addition to Australian vodka and coffee liqueur. With a “shake and pour” mentality, Lachlan says this product is an easy way to enjoy the popular beverage any time, any place.
“The key thing with ready-to-drink products is just how easy they are. It’s very impressive to mix cocktails on the spot for a group of friends who come over, but this takes the guesswork – and the actual work – out of it,” Lachlan says.
He adds there is a growing movement of consumers looking for quality products at every stage of their day, whether it be travelling on the road, filling up the car with petrol, or opening the kitchen fridge at home. For this reason, Lachlan believes customers are brand loyal and passionate about their choice of coffee, and it translates into the spirits they consume too.
“Quality comes first in both categories, and it goes down to having good ingredients. We think our products can be best in market,” Lachlan says.
“There are brands in both the premium and the mainstream space doing exceptionally well in the ready-to-drink segment, and it’s only going to continue to grow. The Australian market is still pretty green and is being dominated by a couple of big brands, but I think it’s ripe for disruption, and ripe for roasters like us to carve out a spot in the RTD market.”
The St Ali Espresso Martini is available for purchase and consumption from independent liquor outlets, via the St Ali website, and at St Ali store locations.
“Five to 10 years ago, customers and even bar staff probably would have screwed their nose up at a pre-bottled cocktail, but attitudes have changed. There’s been a lot of great work done in the last few years to move things forward,” Lachlan says. “It also eliminates the need for a café to have a dedicated barman. It adds a higher price point to a menu without necessarily adding any complexity to a café’s operation.”
The other new dedicated product is the St Ali Coffee Liqueur, which makes an idea base for an espresso martini or a range of other cocktails, such as an Irish coffee or White Russian.
“It’s rich, captures the profile of St Ali’s Orthodox blend, and translates into a boozy, sweet, fun beverage,” Lachlan says.
He says the challenge for both curated products was the balance of alcohol and coffee content.
“As roasters, we spend our lives trying to get balance right: balance of espresso, balance of coffee to milk ratio, and everything in between. When you start to add things like alcohol to a coffee-based product, it can be quite dominant and risk being too sweet, so that presented a challenge,” Lachlan says. “Thankfully, we have some good friends that helped us navigate the process, because we really wanted to preserve the coffee as it was.”
St Ali is a big believer in partnering with like-minded businesses. It’s held collaborations with a range of brands over the years, including Sydney-based distiller Mr Black in 2020 to create a coffee liqueur using its Italo Disco product. It then released Blasphemy, a coffee whiskey with distiller Archie Rose, which Lachlan says was a “runaway success”, awarded number six in the Hottest 100 Aussie Spirits of 2022 across all categories of liquor.
Most recently, St Ali partnered with Corowa Whiskey, based in regional New South Wales, to create Whiskey Beans – green coffee aged in oak barrels.
Young at heart
Another long-time friendship was put to the test when St Ali proposed the idea of a coffee and cascara-infused gin to Sydney-based brewery Young Henrys.
St Ali’s Head Green Bean Buyer Lucy Ward helped curate the product with Young Henrys’ Head Distiller Carla Daunton. They used hand-selected, carefully roasted single origin Peruvian coffee and El Salvador coffee cascara from Producer Aida Batlle’s Finca Kilimanjaro, which produces coffee varietals including SL28, SL 34, and Bourbon Cascara.
“We did an espresso roast of the Peruvian first to allow the flavour to be as extractable as possible. This coffee gave the best profile once it hit maturation with a nice body, but we really didn’t know what to expect,” Lucy says.
“Using Aida’s cascara was an obvious choice. We have a great long-standing relationship with Aida and use her cascara in other St Ali products. It’s just the best, so we thought, ‘why not try using it in the gin?’ The production was all about curiosity and looking at the coffee and cascara as ingredients and being creative to produce something customers have never seen nor tasted before.”
Even as Young Henrys’ Head Distiller for the past three years, Carla says the project was a leap of faith.
“I had no idea how an ethanol extraction would work with the flavour of the coffee because it’s never been done before. You will never have tasted anything like it,” Carla says. “I started with different formulations, using different types of beans Lucy suggested, even green beans, roasted coffee, and cascara, to see what the final extraction could taste like.”
Carla made a gin with botanicals including juniper, angelica root and Tasmanian-grown enigma hops. She then distilled one gram of cascara per litre to create a sweet base and made a coffee essence by hand-cracking 10 grams of coffee beans per litre. She soaked them in the still for five days before extracting all the delicate oils and aromatics.
“Alcohol is very effective at pulling botanical oils out really effectively,” Carla says.
“The flavours are essentially condensed and concentrated. The end result tastes like coffee, but not in a way you’ve ever had before. A lot of the big, bitter, heavily roasted characteristics that you get in your morning cup of coffee are actually hydrophilic, water-soluble components, which get left behind in the still. Then all the top notes of the coffee come through with the sweetness of the cascara. It’s delicious, light, well balanced, and very aromatic.”
Producer Aida Batlle agrees, saying the end result “works well in a gin because of the flavour profile and complexity”.
“[It highlights] flavours of hibiscus flowers, tamarind and stone fruits,” she says.
“St Ali is very innovative, a great customer, and Lucy is awesome.”
The gin can be served on ice, in a coffee negroni with cold brew, as a blond martini or part of an espresso martini, and used creatively to make a fun new cocktail.
The ultimate destination
To take St Ali’s new coffee and booze commitment to the next level, the roaster will open a new café called St Ali & The Queen at the new Queen Victorian Market Munroe Street development, opening in the summer of 2022/23.
“It will be the temple of all things coffee and cocktails. We’re partnering with Orlando Marzo – 2019 Best Bartender of the world – to guide the cocktail and alcohol menu and we at St Ali will head up all things coffee, including some summer slushie specials, and coffee stouts on tap during winter. Guests can come and enjoy a coffee and cocktail, grab some beans, and everything you need to fill your fridge for the weekend,” Lachlan says.
“We’re really trying to celebrate coffee in every form possible. We’re a craft business at the end of the day. We like to partner with other like-minded craft businesses that share the same passion for quality and creativity, and we really believe we’re on to something unique for the Australian coffee industry.”
For more information, visit stali.com.au
This article appears in the December 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.