Vodka from coffee? Yes, why not?


You wouldn’t think that good vodka could be made from anything that’s not a grain or potatoes. Surely not with anything that is a bean, like the coffee we normally brew is. But you would be wrong as a New York-based startup just released their vodka made from discarded coffee. And it is supposedly good at the taste and for the environment. Let’s see why.

The team at Good Liquorworks must have thought that making a spirit that it is both a boon for the environment and tastes delicious was a task that nobody else attempted before. Whether this is correct or not is opinable. What they did was to consider agricultural wastes to use for distilling spirits. For instance, coffee.

Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

What happens with coffee production, anywhere in the world, is that most of the actual cherry that the coffee plants produce every year is discarded. The bean inside is preserved, but the skin and the surrounding pulp are usually either re-used as fertilizers or simply thrown away with the water with which the cherries are washed. It is estimated that around 15 million tons of these coffee cherries’ parts are wasted each year. While this is not a direct danger for the environment, as these pieces of the cherry are biodegradable and natural, it is nonetheless an ingredient that could be used better. And that’s where Good Liquorworks come into play.

They partnered with the Colombian Coffee Federation to furnish them with lots of these coffee wastes and import it in a distillery in upstate New York. From that, they produce Good Vodka, their first product.

Good Liquorworks co-founders Tristan Willey and Mark Byrne are not new to the spirits’ industry. They both worked at Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn, New York, about a decade ago. From that experience, they went into different directions, Byrne to become an editor at GQ Magazine, Willey opened cocktail bars. Thanks to this experience, Willey was able to learn a great deal about coffee too, how it is produced, processed and selected. He personally travelled to Guatemala in 2013 to learn more about coffee, where he witnessed all that good sugar that once was the coffee cherry being flushed down rivers along with the wastewater. The idea behind Good Vodka was born there, even if it was realized only now.

The vodka is a result of over six years of research and development. Good vodka isn’t born in a day and Good Vodka neither (pun intended).

How does Vodka from coffee taste like?

It is to be expected that the taste profile of Good Vodka to differ, greatly, from any other grains or potatoes-based vodka. The source material that is distilled into the spirit is wholly different, with a higher sugar concentration and a mouthfeel that is quite unlike one that you can obtain with more normal means.

According to Willey and Byrne, Good Vodka has a full-bodied flavor, like it was a good, thick, coffee. Sounds weird to say this about a clear vodka. It is definitely heavier in the mouth, with notes of vanilla, black pepper, gentle sweetness. A lot of these notes come from the exact type of the coffee cherries that are being used. Some flavors fluctuations are to be expected depending on whether the pulp of the coffee cherries is dried, boiled or concentrated, but the inventors of Good Vodka have found vanilla and black pepper notes to be a presence every time. Interestingly, they have also found that the original quality of the coffee plays no role in the vodka's quality. This is extremely good news for coffee farmers around the world, because they can hope to sell their average to low-quality coffee output to distilleries like Good Liquorworks elsewhere. Vodka quality doesn’t seem affected by good beans, more by the ways it is distilled. The skills of the master distiller are vital as usual.

The ripeness of the fruit wasn’t tested, though. The intent behind Good Vodka is not to take part of the coffee production for distillation but to reuse what is going to be wasted anyway and make it into a quality product. That is why it is called “good”: it’s not just about the taste, even if that is supremely important, of course. It is about finding a new way to reuse what would be otherwise wasted, and make something good out of it. Less waste, more vodka.

The first bottles are more like a base for their further refining of the vodka. Eventually Good Liquorworks plan to develop a more pronounced flavor profile for their spirits, still using coffee wastes.

It will be interesting to follow these developments and see if other companies will jump in and try to produce their own version of a spirit made from coffee residual parts. Good Vodka is based on 100% Arabica beans, so we don’t yet know how it would taste a 100% Robusta-based vodka, or one that is a blend of both. Neither we know if coffee beans from other regions of the world outside Colombia produce a wholly different taste profile in the spirit. Think of single origins like Indonesia, India, Ethiopia or Jamaica, that have qualities quite unlike the coffee cultivated in Colombia. Even a blend of a couple of these diverse origins may mean an original taste profile that can make all the difference to the final taste, and the uses that the vodka can be directed to.

Where is it available?

If you’re enticed so far and want to try it, know that Good Vodka is available in only a few shops within the US, and in a handful of bars. You can find the full list at the bottom of the official website. At the moment all of them are either in New York or California, so people from other states will need to pay shipping fees from one of the partner shops to taste Good Vodka.

The launching price is $29.99 for a 750ml bottle. There are plans for an e-commerce launch this March.

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