Liquor Nerd: Coffee and alcohol have never been better buddies than during these time-blurred pandemic days

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      One of the strangest things about this most strange period in history is the way time, for many of us, is nowhere as important as it seemed a year ago.

      Think about what life was like in January of 2020. Assuming you weren’t independently wealthy, chronically underemployed, or unable to get out of bed in days with “day” in them, everything was on a schedule. The alarm went off at 7 a.m., work began at 9, lunch was at noon, and quitting time was at 5. After which, in a desperate and often futile attempt to make ends meet, you toodled off to your second job, embitteredly wondering why you couldn’t have been a trust-fund kid, tech genius, or one of the Olsen twins.

      Now that you’re working from home, you wake up around 10 a.m., spend 45 minutes doom-scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and Tinder, then hop in the shower. After a 12 p.m. leisurely breakfast, it’s hard at it until lunch at 2, followed by happy hour at 3. And then, sometime around 5, it’s time to fix a double espresso spiked with Baileys and get seriously at it, seeing as how you’re convinced some egghead in the IT department is not only counting keystrokes but doing so on the exact same schedule.

      Shit still gets done, but these days it’s on your terms. And who cares if you don’t cross the finish line on a project until 1 a.m. while wearing Deadpool pyjamas, duck slippers, and a Japanese-import tuque that reads “Cold Today Isn’t It?”
      And you know why shit gets done? The answer involves two crucial liquids: coffee and alcohol.

      A prepandemic lifetime ago, those two used to mark very distinct parts of the average working day. Coffee was the bohemian breakfast that got you off and running in the morning and the soccer-mom speedball that kickstarted the afternoon. After punching out at 5, alcohol was the reward for surviving another day.

      But because the world is all messed up right now, it’s no surprise that the lines between the two have become hopelessly blurred. And that’s okay, because coffee and alcohol have long had a relationship.

      Conventional thinking is that the first perfect union of the two started with the creation of the Irish coffee circa 1942. Popular legend traces the cocktail back to an airport near Limerick, Ireland, where bartender Joe Sheridan decided to create something unique and warming for a group of travellers who’d had their flight delayed.

      Cream, coffee, sugar, and whiskey went into the glass. When a clearly uppity American—probably a pioneering Brooklyn barista—asked, “Is this Brazilian coffee?”, Sheridan reportedly retorted, “No, that’s Irish coffee.”

      Before you could say “gone viral”, the airport bar became a dream destination for imbibers, with the likes of Marilyn Monroe popping in on her way to Cannes. Irish coffee, meanwhile, quickly made its way stateside, the first approximation at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Hotel, with the drink quickly spreading across the continent.

      While he might have invented one of the most famous coffee cocktails, Sheridan wasn’t the first to stumble on the idea of combining liquor and java juice. The Pharisäer (dark Jamaican rum, sugar, whipped coffee, and whipped cream) had already been on menus in Germany and Vienna for a hundred years or so.

      Also long popular in Vienna was the Fiaker, consisting of coffee and cream with the liquor sometimes being a good shot of kirsch, and other times plum brandy or Grand Marnier. The target audience, for those with an endless appetite for trivia, was Vienna’s carriage drivers, who needed something warm on cold nights. Some places are traditionally more lax about drinking and driving than others.

      But let’s flash forward a bit. Think about how far we’ve come in a short time when it comes to both coffee and cocktails. At some point in the ’50s, convenience started to become king, which is why your grandfather considered a steaming cup of instant Sanka the greatest thing this side of a Swanson TV dinner and prerolled cigarettes. By the ’70s cocktail-making was becoming a lost art, unless your idea of fancy was a Jack and Coke or rye and Seven.

      Then things changed, with artisanal attention to detail becoming a thing—and not just in Williamsburg.

      As anyone who’s been to Revolver on Cambie, Agro Coffee Roasters on Clark, or Kafka’s on Main will happily inform you, coffee is now a full-blown experience as much as a drink. And we’re not just talking the crema on the espresso but the importance of things like acidity and flavour profiles. Yes, praising coffee for notes of “mulberry, cocoa nib, tangerine zest, thyme, and agave syrup” has become a thing.

      Snobbish? Fuck off—somewhere there’s a cup of Kirkland with your name on it.

      The rest of us will give up our freshly roasted beans when you pry them out of our flat-white-warmed hands. Beans, we might add, that usually speak to an undying devotion and loyalty to our favourite coffee shop. Hello, Continental on the Drive—one pound of the dark French, ground on three in the small machine.

      As for cocktail culture, as a dedicated liquor nerd, you know full well that we’re in a golden age that shows no sign of cresting any time soon.
      And speaking of things that won’t be ending, hello COVID-19. If there’s one good thing about the mess we’re all in, it’s that nothing is stopping you from accessorizing your 1 p.m. breakfast of toast and jam and coffee with a shot of whiskey. No one’s going to judge you, especially if you’ve just scored a sweet pair of Breaking Bad pyjamas. It’s called multitasking.

      Here are two drinks you can make to get your day underway. Don't bother taking your pyjamas off.


      1.5 oz Glenmorangie 10 Year Old
      1/3 oz Giffard chestnut syrup
      4 oz quality coffee
      1 oz cream

      Pour whisky, syrup, and coffee into a clear mug, mix, and float cream on top. 

      Irish Espresso Martini

      2 oz vodka
      1 oz espresso
      1/2 oz Baileys
      1/2 oz Kahlúa
      1 oz cream 
      1/2 oz milk

      Pour into a cocktail shaker over ice, shake, and then strain into a martini glass. Dust with cinnamon and cocoa. 

      Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.