A Real Shot of Joe

Alcohol from Coffee

A report June 20, 1882 in the Bangalore Spectator stated a Mr. Bavay at Ceylon Brewery succeeded in distilling alcohol from coffee berries (via British Newspaper Archive).

It noted the idea was not new and that a brewer at Ootacamund – the brewery I discussed recently in Nilgiri, South India – succeeded in the plan, but asserted Mr. Bavay perfected it.

This Bavay is well-known in brewing history. He is Auguste Joseph François de Bavay, and had a long career in Australia, initially in brewing and later in mining and other industries.

He is well-profiled (1981) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

The 1882 article concluded in this felicitous way, with a little re-arrangement almost as free verse:

If Caffey becomes a fashionable spirit, a new impetus will be given to the planting enterprise in Southern India, which has suffered much from bad seasons, the labor difficulty, the bug, the borer, leaf disease, and, not least, – the Gold mania.

“Coffee-Royale” will have to make way, we suppose, for a “coffee peg”.

Much coffee is grown today in South India, particular the Southwest, but for usual drinking purposes, not alcohol.

A peg in British India was a measure of alcohol, often whisky, the standing drink, along with or superseding brandy, in the late Colonial era. See brief explanation in Wikipedia.

In our time, it seems no commercial application has been given coffee distilling. Yet in 2013 Iberian researchers found a way to make booze from spent coffee grounds. Seemingly a sweet example of sustainable management and recycling.

Sugar in this case was added to bulk out the fermentable base. A report the same year in the Daily Mail has good background.

Maybe distilled coffee alcohol, on this or another basis, will be the rage one day. The hope entertained in 1882 did not come to pass, for that period.

Coffee of course is used to mix with whiskey or other alcohol, either brewed coffee or an extract of some kind. That is different from distilling ethanol from coffee berries though, or their detritus.

Home distillers have discussed the idea, one trying it recently with good success according to a discussion at Home Distiller. He made two batches in Costa Rica using two different yeasts, and blended the liquors.

Coffee-Royal, for its part, is a mixture of brandy or whiskey and coffee, sweetened, sometimes topped with whipped cream.

A modern recipe is offered in the 1993 Black Enterprise, by Eunice Fried. An ancestor of the recipe appears in the 1850 book Coffee as it is, and as it Ought to be by P.L. Simmonds.

The recipes are similar except the older one employs a much larger ratio of spirit to coffee. So particular is Simmonds on its “exhilarating powers” and digestive properties that it seems worth trying, but Fried’s surely is more temperate.

Map image below is via Wikipedia Commons, picturing Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1914.





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