Mr Black’s story starts with ardent coffee drinker (but never a coffee snob) and designer Tom Baker inside a distillery with Philip Moore, a much-lauded Australian distiller. Asked if he liked coffee – “I bloody love it,” said Tom – Philip decided to share a little something he was working on. That liquid turned out to be a very early version of what would become Mr Black, and it was unlike anything Tom had previously tried.
Venturing straight into business together Philip and Tom decided to grab their country’s famously good coffee and drag it late into the night. After all why should we care about that morning flat white but not the liquid inside our Espresso Martini?
What resulted is a cold brew coffee cut with Australian wheat vodka that is all about the beans and none of the additives. In fact it’s got about half the amount of sugar you’ll find in most coffee liqueurs and about ten times more delicious coffee – making this a coffee liqueur for the modern palate.
Without so much as a business strategy Tom and Philip hit the streets, or as Tom puts it “asking humans if they wanted to buy it.” The humans said yes please, this is delicious, and before the year was up Mr Black had become a staple in some of Australia’s best bars and coffee shops. Next came the retailers and soon Mr Black was packing his suitcase and taking off for Britain and America.
“The London coffee industry has blown up, same as in New York where they’re all addicted to cold brew,” says Tom. “We just had to look around and see where else in the world loved their coffee.”
So now you know how Australian Mr Black ended up on our not-so-sunny shores. But how exactly is it changing your Espresso Martini? We’ll let Tom explain:
“If you were a bartender in 1984 and heard of a coffee cocktail invented by Dick Bradsell in London this is how you’d replicate it: you’d grab two ounces of standard vodka, some sickly sweet coffee liqueur, sugar syrup and your standard, super bitter, drip black coffee. You probably would have wondered what all the fuss was about. But if you’re a bartender today you can grab a shot of robust and fresh espresso, reach for a premium crafted vodka such as Ketel One or Aylesbury Duck, add in the complexity of Mr Black and a mere 7.5ml of sugar syrup and you’ve got yourself a brilliant drink. The Espresso Martini is popular today where great coffee is popular with good reason.”
But what defines good coffee? Let’s get geeky on beans for a moment and take a look inside that bottle. Mr Black is made with beans from Kenya, Papua New Guinea and El Salvador to combine aromatic chocolate and malt flavours with berry fruitiness and some bold and bright acidity to enliven the palate.
“Making Mr Black is more akin to making wine than a spirit as we’re dealing with a natural product that changes and we’re constantly refining how we use it,” says Tom. “This means that each batch of 300 bottles is also slightly different from the last, but we know what we want Mr Black to taste like, we just have to blend our coffee according that profile, balancing all those wonderful robust flavours.”
Can it go beyond the Espresso Martini though? Much further it turns out, packing flavour into the likes of classic cocktails such as Old Fashioneds and Negronis – think of it as a bitter not a liqueur and you can use it in place of vermouth says Tom – and it’s starting to show up more and more in unique creations.
Mr Black has pioneered the start of a revival for well-balanced, flavourful liqueurs. It’s successful because, just as Tom discovered at the very beginning of its journey, it’s unlike any other product out there. And it’s going to change the way you drink coffee at night. Trust us.