Think there are enough ways to tickle your brain cells and taste buds with jitters-inducing, delicious coffee? Think again. Aside from award-winning local roasters, there are craft beer-coffee hybrids such as Noble Ale Works’ decadent Naughty Sauce, Beachwood’s Pablo Escobeer and Chapman Crafted’s Slow Riser. But caffeinated-beer-inspired cocktails that contain no beer? What kind of madness is this?
Sitting at the far end of Vaca’s bar during intermezzo, one’s back to various tomahawk steaks and house-cured sausage, the must-get Vaca Tonic ($13) is knocked back at a rate that causes immediate brain freeze. David Saenz, one of the Costa Mesa restaurant’s talented bartenders, introduces me to his newest concoction, the Near Stout ($14).
“You have to try this drink I’ve been working on that is sort of reminiscent of a coffee stout,” he says, his words like catnip to a booze writer.
I exhale fast to try to kill my frost-bit head.
“It’s more of a daytime crusher than a sweet, desserty drink,” he continues as he pulls a bit of fresh coffee for the cocktail shaker. “Along with El Tesoro Reposado Tequila and Campari, it uses a bit of turbinado sugar to add a little bit of body back into it.” Also in the mix is St. George NOLA coffee liqueur, which uses Ethiopian Arabica coffee beans, French-roasted chicory root, Madagascar vanilla and other complex sugars.
Near Stout is served in a stemmed beer glass, blushing a deep-ruby hue. The pillowy-white head, as it were, is the biggest surprise, as it uses no egg white and doesn’t really dissipate. Resting nicely on top are three coffee beans, a nod to the con la mosca Sambuca serving, each bean representing health, happiness and prosperity.
On paper, the drink makes no sense. When I think of coffee-friendly spirits, tequila is probably near the bottom of the list, but in Near Stout, it adds a balance to the cacophony of fruity flavors. The whole thing has a pleasant Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter vibe, in which British ales often have stonefruit notes and minerality that can balance out the roast.
During intermezzo, Vaca’s menu is basically bar snacks, prepped desserts and cheese. I went full dessert mode with a set of warm churros ($8) that come with a thick, goosebump-worthy sauce. I highly recommend dipping once in the gooey chocolate, once in the cocktail, back in the chocolate, bite, then sip, leaving a healthy, happy, prosperous froth-stache. Sure you might look weird, but it’s the next best thing to coffee and doughnuts in the afternoon.
Vaca, 695 Town Center Dr., Ste. 170, Costa Mesa, (714) 463-6060; www.vacarestaurant.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest.