After returning to Sweden following four months in the US, it’s very clear that specialty coffee is still on the rise. That is great news in its own right, but with all the crafted coffee and nuanced flavors being consumed, you may need a nightcap or two to help come down from your caffeine high. So I find it no coincidence that the US is also seeing growth in distilleries. Fantastic new bourbons, ryes, and gins are being refined in every region and often with their own twist.
One of these new distillers in San Francisco, Workhorse Rye, understands the overlap of the two beverages and is working with local roaster Four Barrel Coffee to infuse coffee into their product line, beginning with coffee rye bitters. The first batch of bitters takes advantage of the sweetness found in Four Barrel’s Colombia Andino to compliment the fruit flavors found in the whiskey. However, the coffee used will change according to Four Barrel’s offerings. It sounds like it will make a hell of twist on a signature Old Fashion.
We got a little wild and ended up with a bitters that uses rye whiskey and brandy to extract flavors from coffee, grapefruit peel, chiltepin, quassia bark, and clove. We added some Carignan wine from Sutton Cellars for sweetness, body, and color. -Workhorse Rye
Workhorse Rye was founded by Rob Easter & David Gordon in 2011 in the Mission. A few years later, following Rob’s education with Maker Mark’s David Pickerell and working at King’s County Distillery in New York and the team still doesn’t have a distillery of their own, instead calling themselves “gypsy distillers.” Rob and David are taking an approach similar to famous beer brewers like Mikkeller in Denmark or even start-up coffee roasters who lease space at an existing facility, which help keeps overhead their overhead low.
Workhorse Rye currently makes their brew at Thirsty Bear Brewery in downtown SF, and distills in an old Navy jailhouse on Treasure Island. This spring you’ll be able to find their bounty in places like Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa (who serves Equator Coffee), Rye in the Tenderloin and The Lion’s Share down in San Diego.
Along with using all organic grains (70% rye, 20% barley, 10% wheat) to distill their products, and collaborating with Four Barrel Coffee (where Rob once worked in coffee) on bitters, they also source the French Oak red wine barrels used for aging their Darkhorse Rye from local winery Sutton Cellars (Carl Sutton and Rob Easter above). So when it comes to regional representation, the guys at Workhorse Rye are keeping as much of their product as they can in the neighborhood.
I’ve yet to taste any of the Workhorse Rye or their bitters, but hopefully some generous San Francisco baristas can smuggle some up to Seattle for the USBC.
Keep an eye out for Darkhorse Rye in the San Francisco area and their Kickstarter campaign where you can pre-order your own suite of coffee bitters.