Mixing the Museum – The Black Russian

This is Perle Mesta. She just finished a Black Russian, which is also her cute little dog's name (at least in my world).

Welcome back to the Lab!  Today’s cocktail is the Black Russian.  (I’m still plodding away in the B section of my Museum of the American Cocktail Book; my handy-dandy pocket recipe guide).  When I turned the page to the Black Russian…my reaction:  Meh.

Two ingredients…vodka and coffee liqueur, neither of which I like all that well.  But apparently the one-time US ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta, was a big fan of the vodka/coffee combo.  The Black Russian made its first appearance in the late 1940’s when Gustave Tops, a bartender at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels created the concoction for Ambassador Mesta.

The Black Russian is traditionally made with Kahlua, a Mexican rum-based coffee liqueur.  Here’s where I started to struggle with my science schtick for this post.  Damn the Black Russian!  What was I going to talk about?  Vodka?  Seriously? Kahlua?…coffee…interesting….now we’re getting somewhere.  Gears are turning.  Yes, that’s it!  Biofermentation!  Thank the baby Jesus for that Food Science degree.  My family would be so proud of how I apply my skills.

Fun DrinkScience Fact

(I’ll do the research so you can impress your friends at your next cocktail party).

So what does biofermentation have to do with the Black Russian, you ask?  According to Kahlua, coffee is really used during the production of this beverage.  And lest we forget, we live in the coffee-soaked city of Seattle, so we all drink coffee, right?  As such, I assume that you all know a little about the coffee production process.  Beans are picked, they’re green, then they’re roasted, we grind them, and then we make coffee, yes?  Yes, but let’s fill in the gaps with a few more details.  In fact, just go and take a look at this slide deck by the Jackels of Seattle U. and U.W. Bothell which explains coffee bean fermentation:  http://faculty.washington.edu/jackels/research/UCAPresentation_files/frame.htm  (People really do study this phenomenon).

Basically, after the outer skin and pulp surrounding the coffee beans are removed, there still exists a mucilage layer (aka parchment/endocarp).  That’s right, I said mucilage.

Remember this stuff?

This is mucilage; it even says so.  My grandma always had this stuff at her house and I would love to glue anything just so I could use the strange rubbery glue applicator.  Strange kid, I know.

The coffee beans with their mucilage layer are put in a fermentation tank so nature can take its course.  The mucilage is a thick, gluey, pectin covering, and a natural fermentation process removes the goo.  When I say ‘natural’ I mean that no organisms are added to the tank.  This is all just the normal flora…nature.  Bacteria, yeast, and fungi that produce pectinases, enzymes that break down pectin, are naturally occurring and will eat the mucilage away from the beans.

This is pectin:

So is this:

These are pectinase producing microorganisms.  Bacteria:

 

Yeast, such as Pichia and Candida.

Let’s not forget the fungi…Aspergillus, Penicillium and Fusarium

Once the bioenzymatic process is complete, the goo is gone and the coffee beans are washed and ready for the next step:  Drying, roasting, and Kahlua!

Without further ado:

The Black Russian!

  • 60ml Vodka
  • 30ml Kahlua
  • Build over ice in rocks glass.  Serve to someone that will drink it.

Black Russian. Courtesy of Sugar Sand Photography!

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