Vanilla Coffee Liqueur

I don’t talk about coffee much in this space. But it is actually quite an important part of my culinary life. Like many of my academic peers, I found myself drawn to it early on. A cup in the morning to get me going; another to ease into work; and a third (of course) to combat that inevitable classtime grogginess. Bitter and sweet, stimulating and relaxing, coffee has become a metonym in my mind for graduate education. In defense of myself and my graduate student peers, however, I’d protest that it’s less an addiction than a very serious hobby. Or at least — that’s what I usually tell myself.

When I think about it, in fact, this recipe in particular reads a bit like an elixir that is ready-brewed for the edification of graduate students. It has the coffee — that’s clearly vital to our collective predicament. It has a higher-than-average alcohol content for this sort of liqueur (we stingy students demand plenty of bang for our buck). And it has the two together — a potent combination vital for long nights spent grading stack after stack of excruciatingly bad papers.

It isn’t, I would suggest, that graduate school lends itself especially well to excessive drinking. I wouldn’t say that grad students are (excessively) prone to bad habits, nor that alcohol is the only way to cope with the abysmal quality of the work that those do-nothing kids today are so keen to turn in (*shakes fist*).

None of that.

I’d say, truth be told, that this recipe is just as good for cultivating bad habits outside of academia. And that it’s a great way to cope with unwanted drivel from all kinds of sources — bosses, clients, big faceless corporations, family, or anyone else you’d rather lay down and avoid.

This being a post about hard liquor (after a fashion), I feel it necessary at this point to encourage you all to drink responsibly. Given the delicious nature of this concoction, however, that may be unrealistic. So I’ll just say this: whatever you do, don’t drink it all at once!


1 lb Coffee, freshly roasted and coarsely ground
5 cups Filtered Water + 2 more cups (for later)
5 cups 190-Proof Grain Alcohol (I use Everclear)
3 cups Simple Syrup (or thereabouts — depending on your taste)*
2 Vanilla Beans, split

Split the coffee, filtered water, and grain alcohol evenly between two half-gallon mason jars (or put it all in one gallon-sized jar, if you can find one). Stir each thoroughly to make sure that all the grounds are wet. Cover, and refrigerate for twenty-four hours.

Line a mesh strainer with a large coffee filter (or several layers of cheesecloth). When the coffee is finished brewing, strain it into two more half-gallon mason jars (this may take a while, as the grounds have a tendency to gum up the filters). Using the simple syrup, sweeten the liqueur, then bring the quantity of liquid up to five whole cups using filtered water. You may in fact want to use more or less than the recommended three cups of simple syrup — depending on your taste.

Add one split vanilla bean to each half-gallon jar. Then cover tightly and store in a cool place for about one month.

At the end of that time, any additional sediment should have settled to the bottom of the jars. Carefully pour off the liquid, straining it one more time through your strainer / coffee-filter combo. Then “bottle” it in sanitized** containers — either pint-sized mason jars, or actual bottles of a similar size.

You should end up with about seven pints; and the liqueur’s final ABV should be about 32%. You’ll probably want to give it a couple of months to age before you drink it, but that’s hardly a requirement.

* To make the simple syrup, mix equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar; then remove from the heat and chill in the refrigerator.
** Thoroughly cleaning and then boiling your bottles / mason jars should be sanitation enough. But I’m paranoid. I went the bleach-solution route.

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