Explorations in Mixology Cocktails Drinking

Stargazing with Galileo

Who hasn’t been tempted to try butter in their coffee in lieu of cream? It seems pretty indulgent, but some people swear by it, calling it bullet, or bulletproof coffee. We roast our own beans and love pour-over or single-origin espresso, so we don’t typically add creamer to our morning cup as it tends to obscure the origin flavors. But cream or milk does sometimes resurrect a bad cup when you have no other choice and just can’t do without the caffeine.

While we may not normally sacrifice our beans to a butter experiment on a typical morning, we have no problem trying it in a cocktail. So, when we spotted this recipe in the September/October 2019 issue of Imbibe Magazine, we knew we had to try it, even if it keeps us awake way past our bedtime. Besides, what can go wrong with a cocktail that is whiskey-based and includes a pair of our favorite Italian bitters!

Stargazing with Galileo by Lindsay Jones, Noble, Halifax, Nova Scotia
1.5 oz bourbon
1 oz brown-buttered coffee
.5 oz Campari
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup (1:1)

Stir with ice, then strain into over a large chunk of ice in rocks glass.

This cocktail requires a bit of effort, as you need to make brown-buttered coffee and let it cool. You can start on this now, or it may be a project to file away for when you make a big pot and have leftovers. The recipe calls for a medium-roast, but we figure you could try this with anything—even cold brew which is often made in bulk. Be aware that cold brewed coffee lacks acidity, and even though this is a subtle nuance in coffee, you may need to adjust the balance of the final cocktail by reducing the simple syrup. And because cold brew is concentrated, you’d also want to dilute it to typical strength.

Brown-Buttered Coffee
2 cups brewed coffee, medium roast
.25 cup salted butter

Add the butter to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it melts and turns brown, taking care not to let it burn. Add coffee and let cool. Refrigerate for 24 hours then strain through cheesecloth and bottle.

If you only have unsalted butter we recommend adding a pinch of salt as you melt it. Salt makes a huge difference in the flavor of butter, and if it didn’t matter, it would not have been mentioned in the recipe. We made our coffee mixture in about 15 minutes and transferred it to a shaker tin to rapidly chill in the freezer. Before it froze, we pulled it out and the butter had floated to the top and formed a solid puck. This was easy to push sideways and strain the liquid to remove the browned milk solids.

It may sound strange, but there are plenty of examples of fat-washing to infuse flavor into a drink. The technique here is water-based, whereas most fat-washing experiments use alcohol. This experiment isn’t as intense as smokey bacon-infused bourbon, but it’s also not as crazy as a grilled-cheese infused rum (yes, this is on our list). If you ask someone who enjoys bullet coffee, they will tell you that butter isn’t that far removed from adding milk or cream to coffee—it’s just coagulated milk fat which could be thought of as a more concentrated version of cream—and plenty of cocktails call for cream.

After straining the buttered coffee we noticed the cold coffee that was leftover, so we decided to do a taste comparison. The brown buttered coffee remains dark in color and does not look much different than the cold black coffee we used to make it. But it definitely has the distinct flavor of cream—or maybe even a hint of caramel or toffee. We are starting to understand the appeal, and wonder if this new ingredient would work in other drinks like the Cold Brew & Tonic.

Mixing up the cocktail is fairly straightforward at this point. You don’t even need a garnish. You do, however, need a big chunk of ice. You could opt for a chiseled asteroid, or a cosmic cube. We went with a clear ice planetoid for maximum astronomical effect—and wow, what a beautiful drink it made!

As flavors go, the first thing you notice is the coffee aroma—a promise of flavors to come. A sip reveals a luxurious balance of sweet, bitter and strong. We used a 100-proof bourbon but you would never know it. The combination of buttered coffee and Fernet-Branca layers perfectly with the whiskey. Yet, these deeper notes are brightened by the half-ounce of Campari that reminds us of bittersweet chocolate. The Campari does not dominate, however, and had we not mixed it ourselves we might not know it’s in there. We haven’t enjoyed flavors like this since having an espresso Negroni some years back—only this is more akin to a coffee-flavored Boulevardier, with Fernet standing in for vermouth.

It’s impossible not to try to categorize a drink against a backdrop of experience with similar flavors, but not every recipe fits nicely. In this case, we think it can appeal to coffee drinkers with its long finish, of course, but also to Old Fashioned lovers, Manhattan fanatics, and anyone who likes a spirit-forward adventure into the slightly bitter end of the cocktail spectrum. You also gotta love the name of this drink. Galileo was Italian, and we can imagine staying up late with him, fueled by caffeine, whiskey and Amaro, peering through the telescope trying to understand the universe.

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