BRATTLEBORO—Christian Stromberg, owner of Saxtons River Distillery on Route 30, really likes coffee.
However, he says he has yet to taste a coffee liqueur that actually tastes like a good cup of joe.
“What’s out there on the market is not for people who like coffee,” he says. “They just don’t taste like coffee.”
So he decided to make his own.
Perc is a 60-proof coffee liqueur that puts the flavor emphasis on the coffee — not the liqueur. And the coffee that Perc showcases is none other than Brattleboro’s Mocha Joe’s.
Stromberg says choosing Mocha Joe’s as his flavor base for Perc was a no-brainer. “I like their coffee, and they’re right down the street,” he says. “I learned more about coffee from them, and their knowledge got us to where we’re at with the finished product.”
Saxtons River Distillery is more famous for Sapling, its maple liqueur, and its recently introduced maple-infused bourbon and rye. But Stromberg said maple products are a niche market, and that he wanted to try something different that wasn’t maple flavored.
“I like making pure products, and not doctoring them up to make them passable,” he says.
His first batch started with 300 pounds of organic Arabica coffee beans from South America. He immediately ran into his first challenge — how do you grind 300 pounds of coffee?
Stromberg found an old coffee grinder from the 1930s in a local antique store that once was in a supermarket. But the grinder, accustomed to managing a pound or two at a time, quickly overheated. He says he now is on the lookout for a secondhand industrial coffee grinder that can handle a large batch of beans.
Then came the second challenge — how do you brew that much coffee? Stromberg said he got an old steam kettle from the Flat Street Pub in Brattleboro — “the last thing that was in their basement after Irene flooded them out” — and got it into the distillery.
He rigged up the kettle to turn it into a super-sized French press coffee pot, and cold-brewed the coffee that would be the base of Perc.
The coffee is then infused into an American-made alcohol base and lightly sweetened with cane sugar.
The result is a coffee liqueur that’s not as sweet as the more familiar rum-based brands such as Kahlua or Tia Maria.
“We’re not trying to compete with Kahlua,” Stromberg said. “But if somebody wants a coffee liqueur that’s roasted, blended, and bottled in Brattleboro, they should give Perc a try.”
Even the label on Perc is local, says Stromberg. It was designed by Brattleboro graphic artist Tim Thrasher.