Coffee liqueur is pretty easy to make at home, and if you've read our guide on why instant coffee is a pantry essential, you know that we recommended the powdered stuff over fresh-brewed when making your own Kahlua at home...until now.
Inspired by Los Angeles-based company Fliquor Bean, which cold brews coffee in a base of whiskey (yes, whiskey) rather than water, I made Kahlua the lazy way by steeping coffee in ice-cold vodka for 14 hours and then adding the other ingredients (vanilla and sugar). I also took a page from Fliquor's book and made a second batch of cold-brew coffee, only using Scotch whiskey as the steeping liquid.
First, I went out and bought cheap booze and coffee. Don't judge me, I'm still real. I'm just cheap as hell and couldn't bear the thought of pouring coffee into a couple of cups of Glenlivet or Belvedere.
I figured that the alcohol would extract more flavor and aroma from the coffee, leaving me with a super-strong concentrate that would work well for my DIY coffee liqueur, in the case of the vodka, or served over ice, with the Scotch.
The results? Pretty damn good. Both the coffee-and-vodka and coffee-and-Scotch brews were smooth with no hint of acidity. Best of all, both tasted like coffee—real honest-to-goodness coffee, but with a massive, for-adults-only kick.
Some tasters noted that they might prefer a smoother, sweeter liquor like bourbon in which to cold-brew the coffee, since Scotch, with its smoky notes, can be a bit much to take, especially for those who aren't Scotch drinkers.
And because the steeping process was so long, I could taste different notes of fruits, nuts, and spice in the coffee, all of which were amped up by the alcohol. Once I added agave and vanilla to the vodka version, I proclaimed it the best homemade Kahlua I'd ever produced.
The rich, strong flavor of coffee really enhances the liquor and vice versa, so if I were going to make either of these mixes again just for sipping over ice, I would definitely get a better brand of liquor, or use one of several easy methods to improve the taste of bottom-shelf vodka.
However, I think that cheaper vodka is just fine with homemade Kahlua, because any taste defects in the alcohol get masked by the sweetener and vanilla. Ditto with the Scotch whiskey, which I will save to make my own bastardized version of Irish coffee—with plenty of sugar and cream.