THE DUDE: Listen, Maude, I’m sorry if your stepmother is a nympho, but I don’t see what it has to do with … do you have any Kahlúa?
A fractional percentage of the cult classic film The Big Lebowski is dedicated to Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski’s quest to obtain and enjoy the Kahlúa-based cocktail known as a White Russian. It’s a perfect beverage for the film’s main character — easygoing, affable, a little sloppy, a little low class, but surprisingly formidable in the long run.
Although the cocktail recipe specifies only coffee liqueur, for decades that has meant one thing, and one thing only: Kahlúa, the 800-pound-gorilla of this small-but-important niche that keeps college parties and spring break happy hours humming.
Locally, we’ve got a new coffee liqueur to consider dropping into Kahlúa’s spot on the roster: Cafe Frieda, made at Du Nord Craft Spirits using Peace Coffee’s Yeti cold press coffee. Tasted side by side with Kahlúa, Cafe Frieda stacks up like this:
Kahlúa: Smells of vanilla-flavored, sweetly scented booze. Texture is cough-syrup thick. The coffee is missing in action initially, swamped by sugar, but it comes out in the final part of the sip and in the aftertaste. But it’s coffee-flavored candy, not brewed coffee. The bitter bite is missing entirely.
Cafe Frieda: Smells of coffee — a nutty dark roast. The booze is nearly imperceptible on the nose. Thinner texture than Kahlúa, with the coffee strongly represented in the middle of each sip, registering crystal clear on the finish. Although sweet, there’s nothing cloying here, and a concluding bitterness is clearly present and helps add balance and complexity.
In terms of quality, there’s no contest. Cafe Frieda crushes Kahlúa. It’s better balanced, actually enjoyable as a cordial, more suitable for craft cocktails, and tastier overall — unless you’re looking for a coffee liqueur that is sugar first, sugar second, and somewhat coffeelike as a distant third. If you’re mixing it in a White Russian, go easier on the vodka — maybe 1:1:1 vodka:Frieda:half-and-half versus 2:1:1 for a traditional model — the extra vodka cuts the cloying thickness of Kahlúa but overwhelms the more delicate Cafe Frieda.
In terms of price, the shoe’s on the other foot. Frieda’s about twice as expensive ($17 for 375 milliliters of Cafe Frieda versus $18 for 750 milliliters of Kahlúa.) And it would be pure snobbery to say you can’t make a potable White Russian with Kahlúa. You can. They’re eminently drinkable.
The cocktail is more complex and more satisfying with Cafe Frieda, but whether that’s worth the price depends on a lot of subjective factors: your booze budget, your interest in buying locally, and your passion for Caucasians. We know what The Dude would have chosen — Cafe Frieda all the way … so long as it was on someone else’s dime.