At first glance, Bad Larry’s Cold Hard Coffee raises more questions than it answers. To start, just what the hell is it?
Announced Monday in DRAFT, Bad Larry’s is a first-of-its-kind alcoholic beverage that blends cold press coffee and malt liquor. It’s the brainchild of “Bad” Larry Abernathy, local bar owner Matty O’Reilly, and Blackeye Roasting Co. founder Matt McGinn, the latter of whom serves as Bad Larry’s formulation consultant.
“We were surprised that no one has ever done this,” McGinn says. “I think there’s a huge market for it. The brunch market. The dessert market. It’ll be great for tailgating. It’ll be great for music events. We had no idea what it would taste like, but when we got the first samples back, we were like, ‘Holy shit, this might actually work.’”
According to McGinn, each 11.6-ounce can of Bad Larry’s contains about 45% Blackeye light-roast Brazilian blend cold brew. The rest of the liquid is malt liquor, giving the drink a 6% ABV -- a step above Smirnoff Ice and Twisted Tea, which both clock in at 5% ABV. It’s actually closer to a coffee beer than a traditional fortified malt beverage, but then again, it’s not anything like beer, either.
“It has a very unique taste, I’ve never seen it anywhere,” McGinn says. “You get a brandy aroma, but the finish is super clean. It’s not sour at all -- it’s very smooth and malty. But it’s not carbonated, so it’s definitely not like a beer. It’s its own thing, which is why I think the name is so cool.”
As defined by Urban Dictionary, a bad larry is “a general [noun] used in place of something that is savory or desirable.” In East Coast parlance, it’s a stand-in term for anything badass but otherwise unknowable. And while that definition helps frame the branding of Bad Larry’s, it doesn’t help answer the second nagging question.
How the hell is it legal?
Academic boozehounds and retired frat boys alike may remember that, a half decade ago, Four Loko tarnished the caffeinated hooch trend for the entire industry. The specter of Four Loko, along with research damning the effects of Red Bull and vodka, led the FDA to outlaw the addition of unnatural caffeine to packaged alcohol.
However, the FDA’s regulations don’t rule out natural caffeine. So long as the stimulant naturally occurs in one of the product’s key ingredients, it’s perfectly legal to blend with alcohol.
“If you Google ‘alcohol and caffeine,’ you’ll see all this stuff about Four Loko being outlawed,” McGinn says. “But [Bad Larry’s] had a legal team make sure this was legit. It’s no different than a coffee beer in terms of licensing, but instead of creating a coffee beer, we created a hard cold brew.”
Each container of Bad Larry’s contains 180 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly equivalent to the amount consumed in a 16-ounce cup of hot brewed coffee or 20 ounces of Red Bull. McGinn notes that an average can of Blackeye cold press contains around 400 milligrams of caffeine, so Bad Larry’s comes in at less than 50% of their normal serving and 10% below the FDA’s legally mandated 200 milligram limit.
Legalities dispensed, the next curiosity follows: What the hell does it taste like?
McGinn likens the aroma of Bad Larry’s to brandy. He attributes a nutty, sweet scent when the contents of the can are poured over ice, but overall, it’s not much like coffee at all.
“It’s not carbonated, it has malt notes, and it’s very sweet from the malt and the sugar we add,” McGinn says. “Then it’s acidified and sterilized to be shelf stable. What you’re left with is a very unique taste.”
Poured over ice, it leads with an almost acrid booze scent, letting you know that, despite the smooth, cafe look, it’ll definitely get you lit. But that scent evolves over the life of the drink, growing roastier as the liquid disappears.
Unlike coffee, there is no ensuing bitterness. In fact, the sweetness of Bad Larry’s is sometimes overpowering. It’s not unlike Twisted Tea in that way, but unlike the macro hard drink, Bad Larry’s has a clear craft background in the complexity of the flavor. You can have a conversation over the taste or, if you’re more inclined to pound it before a bowl game, you can take it down like a Sprecher’s hard root beer.
OK, final question. Where the hell can you buy some? And when?
Bad Larry’s isn’t on the market just yet. Four-packs of the fortified cold press will appear on liquor store shelves across Minnesota and Wisconsin this May. Potential distribution in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa is still in negotiation, so the rest of the country is in the lurch while the Midwest beta tests the genre-defying beverage.
McGinn hints that there may be a bag-in-box treatment (think box wine) on the horizon for restaurants interested in carrying Bad Larry’s, but the product won’t compete with beer for tap lines. Nor will it be in the Blackeye coffee shop on 38th and Chicago. After all, it’s not a beer. And it’s not a coffee, either.