It’s been 40 years since legendary bartender Dick Bradsell famously combined a shot of espresso with vodka, sugar and coffee liqueur. A lot has changed in the cocktail sector over that time, but the enduring popularity of this particular arrangement remains steady. In fact, the Espresso Martini is as popular today as it ever was. As is the canned cocktail category. It’s surprising then, that no brand has successfully merged the two trends into something singularly spectacular…Until now.
Earlier this year NightOwl arrived on the scene, a line of ready-to-drink Espresso Martinis, priced at around $20 per canned 4-pack. Its founders began working on the formulation in October 2021, and they claim it took over 18 months of experimentation and refinement to come away with the perfect recipe. Validation has come in the form of top industry awards; multiple medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and more recently top-prizes in the RTD category at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
The brand launched with two marks. The Classic is made with vodka, and The Original is built off of tequila, which NightOwl has endeavored to bring to the forefront of the Espresso Martini movement. Both are blended with real spirits and natural coffee to clock in at 12.5% ABV, sporting 100mg worth of caffeine per 200ml can.
It might surprise some to see a tequila-based Espresso Martini labeled as “the original.” The naming choice is perhaps intentionally provocative. But it does follow consumer trends and preferences, particularly when following hashtags on Instagram and TikTok as an indicator.
“When something is trending on social media, like tequila Espresso Martinis, you can be sure to get many more requests,” says Rachel Flores, general manager at Homemakers Bar in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Sometimes it’s not until you ask the guest if they would like cream or milk in their Espresso Martini, that they then start questioning what else goes into it.”
And for many a drinker, after experiencing the tequila variation for the first time, they find it difficult to go back to vodka. Originally known as the Jalisco Espresso when it was first conceived back in 2005, the agave alternative offers a subtle earthiness, which sits firmly within with the roasty notes of the coffee modifier.
Behind the bar at Cucina Palm Beach, Trish Thurston confirms that many of her patrons never even realized that tequila was an option for this particular category of cocktail. “We get more orders for Espresso Martinis with vodka,” she says, “But if you ask them if they’d prefer it with tequila instead, then they will often say tequila.”
NightOwl, for its part, has been busy developing a fervent fanbase for “Team Jalisco Espresso,” aka The Original. Demand in certain markets has been so robust that even bars have taken the product in, actually offering it to customers from the can. For staff, it’s hard to argue with the efficiency factor. And given the quality of the product, little is lost compared to preparing it from scratch.
“Can you charge the same amount for a canned Espresso Martini?” asks Flores. “I’m sure you can—pun intended—but it needs the right presentation. Part of the allure of the Espresso Martini is a dark liquid with a nice foam head. Throw a fresh coffee bean on top and people love it. Guests will pay more for the experience of the shaker to glass presentation. It becomes a whole experience.”
For would-be home bartenders, at least, NightOwl affords an opportunity to conveniently capture the flavor of the perennially trendy preparation at home. 4-packs are currently available across New York, Florida, New Jersey, and California. If you’re looking to recreate the experience, martini glasses, shakers and coffee bean garnishes are sold separately.