I’m quite used to getting invites to spirit tastings, or wine tastings. Even a coffee or two. But Mr Black had me intrigued almost immediately. You see this particular tasting wasn’t in a bar, or a restaurant. It was in a coffee shop, Grindsmith’s to be precise.
It was a bit of a bold step – a coffee spirit in a coffee bar. Most of the spirits I’ve sampled probably haven’t been anywhere near a well roasted bean, so to pop up in a venue that’s very well known for it, was impressive. It was one I had to go to.
Tom Baker, one of the creators of this dark spirit was in Manchester, to chat to both bartender and barista alike, to explain the process behind the liqueur and, more importantly, let us sample it and judge for ourselves.
As with good coffee, it starts with the beans. Speciality beans from Ethiopia, Brazil and Papua New Guinea are selected for flavour and texture, roasted locally (a process they are hoping to do themselves in the future) and ground in house.
Every step of the journey towards creating Mr Black from the start in 2012 has been a learning curve, from the coffee selection to the grinding process. They use a Ditting grinder, which many of us may recognise from coffee shops and roasting houses. The sheer amount of coffee that goes through that grinder – 250kg cofffee per week – has meant that they regularly send their blades off to be resharpened. Failure to do so results in coarser grounds, and an inferior product.
Once ground, they can then move removing the grounds using a winery press. The thick mixture of grounds and water is put into the press to slowly the coffee from the grounds. As the press exerts pressure, they taste the coffee and much like a distiller would know when to stop, they’ve learned too and so not all the water is extracted from the coffee mixture.
They then move onto another process ‘stolen’ from the winemaking process and use cold racking to remove the finer grounds. Taking a 200 litre drum, they fill it with 140 litres of the liquid from the press, rolled into a cool room where the temperature is maintained at 5°C, and the sediment is allowed to settle for 24 hours. Using a plate and a pump, they pump the liquid from the top, into another drum and repeat the process. Eventually they are left with 130 litres of cold brew ready for the booze.
If they were to use a filter for this process it would give them a cold brew too light to use in the liqueur.
The cold brew is rather unpalatable on it’s own, it’s got a rather spinachy, green flavour, but this is perfect for the creation of Mr Black, because it’s at this point they add 97% grain spirit to the coffee. The alcohol dissolves a lot of the coffee flavours, and so removed the more unpalatable elements, and also adds a sweetness to the cold brew.
Unfortunately, coffee also contains a lot of protein and the alcohol reacts with this, meaning the chaps once again need to use the cold racking process to remove it.
Finally, the coffee has sugar added to change it from a coffee vodka into a liqueur. Using a good quality sugar, which is then stirred into the liqquid, which takes 6 hours to stir in. It’s then ready for bottling.
So, enough about how it’s made, what’s it like?
It’s really very good. Forget other brands in the supermarket, this is the one you want. There’s less sugar, so you get less of that sweet syrupy bitter flavour. What you get is a well balanced liqueur that it delicious over ice, and I have to say, I can’t wait to sample it in an espresso Martini, or I’ve heard it actually goes very well in a gin and tonic.
Mr Black is available in bars across Manchester, including Cottonpolis in the Northern Quarter.
Brings a whole new meaning to a cup of Joe.
With thanks to Grindsmiths for hosting, and Mr Black and Love Drinks for the invitation to the event.