MOVE OVER KAHLUA…
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
by Andrew Chalk
There is a new coffee liqueur on the block, and he’s got an attitude. An Australian attitude. You can call him Mr. Black. Mr. Black coffee liqueur is the mutant child of distilling whiz Philip Moore and coffee nerd Tom Baker (not related to the former Dr. Who actor) whose chance meeting in a Sydney bar in 2013 led to a collaboration that now sees their bottles in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as Australia. And they keep some distinguished company. Employees Only in New York, The Savoy in London, to mention two bars. Retail sales outlets are equally distinguished: Astor Wines in New York and Selfridges in London among their number.
Why the appeal? Tom Baker, visiting Dallas to launch the product and offering me four cocktails based on Mr. Black, says that “we have a singular focus on coffee liqueur. The company will never make anything else. There are no shortcuts and only the best known ingredients.” A study of their coffee makes the point. They roast their own Arabica beans sourced from three named estates in El Salvador, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea. This, and the distillation of the vodka made from Australian wheat, happens at their distillery just outside Sydney.
I’m a fan of the product with my favorite cocktail being the Pacific Coast Fizz, a concoction of Mezcal and pink grapefruit that subtly blends the smokiness of mescal with Mr. Black’s earthy coffee, adding the freshness of grapefruit tartness.
I pestered Tom about who drinks Mr. Black. Are they young, old, male, female, any ethnic tilt in sales? He surprised me when he said that from his discussions with bartenders and retailers it is people who just love coffee and cocktails. He added that these results were not the result of any kind of ‘big data’ analysis. “Mr. Black is a spreadsheet-free liqueur”, he said, alluding to the seat-of-the-pants, rather than quantitative, management style he employed as a twenty-something (now 31) during the company’s formative years.
With several drink show awards already in hand, one can’t help but expect the medium-term to lead to an acquisition of Mr. Black by a liqueur major, reflecting the scale economies in the spirits industry. Unless, that is, Baker and Moore decline offers. The other possibility, if they single-handedly revive the languishing coffee liqueur category, is a rash of competitors. On the other hand, they are riding a wave, as such reputable data sources as Silicon Valley Bank now predict wine sales will fall as younger drinkers switch to beer, spirits, and pot.
Also, the U.S. is now their largest export market so I expect this week’s Dallas launch will be followed by more visits on the Qantas DFW-Sydney A380. Tom Baker will be very welcome.
[Note: I have reached out to the company for a list of Dallas stockists. I will update this article when I hear.
Update: Dallas stockists include Spec's and Goofy Goody ]
Note: My cocktails were paid for by Mr. Black.