In late November, the narcs at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission decided to ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loko, leaving legions of amateur imbibers wondering how to avoid passing out before the party ends. Sophisticated drinkers like you probably didn't mess around with that metallic, sweetly medicinal stuff - maybe because it tasted like a robot's balls, or maybe because your idea of a fun night on the town doesn't include a visit to the ER. "Caffeine and liquor should maybe not be combined in the doses that beverages like Four Loko were attempting," says Colin Kiley, beverage director at Skipjack's (199 Clarendon Street, Boston, 617.536.3500). Fortunately, there are other options for mixing caffeine with alcohol, but you'll need to look a little harder to find cocktails that aren't essentially adult milkshakes.
"So few bars make a decent coffee cocktail. Most bartenders put some old coffee in a can and mix it with Baileys and Kahlúa, and the result is akin to an alcohol-laced ‘regulah Dunkies,' " explains Leo Crowley, general manager of West Side Lounge (1680 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617.441.5566). Josh Eaker, bar manager at Church (69 Kilmarnock Street, Boston, 617.236.7600), has a simple solution: caffeinated spirits on the rocks. "Van Gogh Double Espresso vodka on the rocks ($10) is a great option if you need a kick. It has all the great flavor notes you enjoy about espresso without any of the overbearing sweetness of some other flavored vodkas," he says. You might also try Vincent Van Gogh 19/90 XXO EspreXXO Ultimo, which provides twice as much caffeine per serving, about 20 milligrams.
Since I always side with tequila over vodka, I prefer Patrón XO Café, which has about 10 milligrams of caffeine per serving - still not much compared to a cup of coffee, but not negligible either. Its spicy tequila bite dampens the usual sickly sweetness of coffee-flavored liquors, giving you more options for interesting flavor profiles, as in The Mon Cheri ($15); created by Kate Moore of L'Espalier (774 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.262.3023), it's made with Patrón XO, crème de cacao, Luxardo Amarena syrup, and chocolate bitters. Vincent Stipo of Deuxave (371 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617.517.5915) is using it too in his Flip Fix ($11), which combines Patrón XO with fresh espresso, Double Cross Vodka, cayenne-pepper simple syrup, and one whole egg.
At Canary Square (435 South Huntington Avenue, Jamaica Plain, 617.524.2500), general manager Bryce Mack is experimenting with ways to take the sweetness out of a boring old espresso martini as well. His Tres Loko ($8) - that's one less Loko! - features Three Olives Triple Shot Espresso vodka, milk, CREAM alcohol-infused whipped cream, and cayenne pepper. "I went through a Red Bull vodka phase," he says. "But it's not so good for you." This alternative offers just a little bit of a lift, but it won't leave you crashing (physically, or in the car on the way home). It drinks like an espresso martini, frothy and cold, but finishes with a peppery heat that gives it some substance.
If tea is more your speed than coffee, you'll find plenty of options on cocktail menus around town. At Skipjack's, Colin Kiley suggests his Earl Gray Marteani ($9), made with tea-infused gin, honey syrup, lemon juice, and egg white. Alexei Beratis, beverage manager at Towne Stove and Spirits (900 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.247.0400), likewise prefers tea. He uses green tea in his China Pearl ($12) alongside pear vodka, ginger liqueur, and pear nectar. "It's both caffeinated and very high in antioxidants," he says. "It's a great alternative to some of the more typical selections and has its positive health benefits."
The biggest health benefit of all? With these moderately caffeinated cocktails, you'll still be getting a decent night's sleep.