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The Commons
Photo 1

Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo

Christian Stromberg, founder of the Saxtons River Distillery.

Food and Drink

Perc Coffee Liqueur takes gold medal

Saxtons River Distillery's newest product is a hit at World Spirits Competition

Originally published in The Commons issue #330 (Wednesday, November 4, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.



BRATTLEBORO—At the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, held in March, Brattleboro’s Saxtons River Distillery won a gold medal for Perc Coffee Liqueur.

Saxtons River Distillery released Perc about two years ago; this the first year it sent the product to the competition.

“The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is considered to be the most recognized and legitimate spirits competition in the world, and a coffee liqueur hasn’t been awarded a gold medal in almost 10 years,” Saxtons River Distillery Marketing Manager Sydney Bouchard wrote in an email to The Commons.

“If you’ve got a good product, you bring it to San Francisco,” founder Christian Stromberg said, referring to the World Spirits Competition.

“The judges are people in the industry who know spirits,” he added.

Stromberg said he submitted Perc to the competition because he had “what I thought was a good product,” and “the judges thought so, too.”

Although the win is an achievement for the distillery, accolades also go to another Brattleboro beverage-maker, Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company, which provides the coffee beans that go into the spirit.

“Mocha Joe’s is picky,” Stromberg said, but coffee is “what they do, and I appreciate that.”

Stromberg’s distillery began with him making Sapling, the award-winning maple liqueur. From there, he has branched out to other maple-based spirits in the Sapling line, including Maple Bourbon and Maple Rye.

“Perc is the first departure from the Sapling line,” Stromberg said.

When asked why he chose coffee as his next liqueur destination, Stromberg answered plainly: “Because I really like coffee.”

“You do what’s your passion,” he added.

Stromberg explained further: “So much of what’s out there” in the coffee liqueur world “isn’t real coffee — it’s synthesized.”

“The coffee liqueur world was dominated by something I wouldn’t make,” he said.

Having access to high-quality coffee was also key in Stromberg’s decision.

“Mocha Joe’s is here,” he said, adding, “if they weren’t local and I didn’t know them, it wouldn’t have happened. Working with them has been valuable and necessary.”

Stromberg said that by working with Mocha Joe’s co-owner Pierre Capy and his staff, he got a true coffee education.

“Pierre has been really helpful,” he said.

“There are larger coffee producers in Vermont,” Stromberg said. “But, I wanted the best.”

‘Not all good cups of coffee make good liqueur’

To make Perc, Stromberg and his workers grind the beans themselves, then cold brew the coffee. Each 250-gallon batch of Perc Coffee Liqueur requires 250-300 pounds of coffee, Stromberg said, and each gallon of Perc fills five bottles.

“We use Mocha Joe’s organic Peruvian beans,” Stromberg said. During the development phase of creating Perc, which lasted about 1{1/2} years, Stromberg said he tried numerous beans.

“Not all good cups of coffee make good liqueur,” he said.

Perc is aged in stainless steel, not oak barrels. “I wanted a clean taste, the expression of the actual beans,” without any spices to hide the coffee flavor, Stromberg said.

The result is a curious elixir that has the smooth, fruity depth of an excellent cup of coffee, but with the unmistakable spike of distillation.

There’s a mysterious note of cream — but the richness of cream, not the milkiness, since there is no cream in Perc.

Similarly, the sugar comes through as warm notes of caramelized sugar, like one finds in butterscotch or toffee, but without any of the excessively sweet notes one normally gets from those foods.

For a professional food-taster, or anyone who spends a lot of time paying close attention to flavors, textures, and aromas, Perc is a fascinating experience.

Just don’t have it for breakfast.

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