Thursday, May 14, 2009

The coffee brandy quality of life?

The Westbrook Diarist's blog has a great quote from Mallory Shaughnessy, coordinator at the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse, about coffee brandy and gauging the quality (or quantity) of snowmobiling each season.

John's post includes a quote to an interview on MPBN's Maine Things Considered that I think I need to go listen to now.

Allen's Coffee Brandy is a Maine obsession. For a few years now, on the side, I've been collecting local colloquial names for coffee brandy drinks.

Now might be a good time to post some of them, and see who else has a few handy to throw in!

  • A & OK -- a reference to Oakhurst milk (OK) and the legendary Maine softdrink, S & OK Soda*

  • Gorilla Milk -- which the Urban Dictionary relates to the way the drink raises the Stupidity Factor, but which I have heard relates to the appearance of the ladies drinking it (I know, not very friendly)

  • Sombrero

  • The Champagne of Maine

  • Fat Ass in a Glass

  • Liquid Leg Spreader -- as described by the Mainah Glossary blog

  • Biddeford Martini

  • Liquid Panty Remover

  • Anyone else have some other nicknames to add?

    *: S & OK Soda is tasty stuff in a variety of flavors. I used to pick up packs of the bottles when I was in Presque Isle up in Aroostook County visiting my inlaws, and haul it back to Portland because it's much harder to find down here.

    According to commentator "bullmoose" on the site,
    S&OK is a small regional bottler in Bangor, ME. S & OK stands for Stanley & O'Keefe. It was bottled by the Butterfield Bottling Co. in Great Works, ME (now part of Old Town,ME). When I was 8 to 10 years old I used to go to a friends house after school. It was always fun because he had cases of free S & OK soda in his cellar. His name was Gregory O'Keefe(his Grandfather was the O'Keefe in S& OK. There were many
    flavors available and we would try them all as well as "test" flavors that were never released to the public.I remember Birch Beer, Chocolate Soda, Fruit Punch,Sassparilla, Pineapple, Lemon soda, Lemon-Lime, Grape, Orange,Strawberry,Raspberry, Cream soda and Root Beer. The rights to bottle S & OK were purchased by my mailman and his son & law. At first they bottled it in the Stillwater, ME (part of Orono,ME) shopping Mall, then the bottling was moved to Bangor. It is stll available I believe.
    The Washington Post has a lengthy and serious article on the subject of Maine's love of Allen's:
    A Bittersweet 'Champagne of Maine'
    Potent Coffee Brandy Is Top-Selling Liquor but Is Linked to Alcohol Abuse
    By David A. Fahrenthold
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, January 9, 2006; A03

    PORTLAND, Maine -- The dark-brown liquid that some people call "the champagne of Maine" tastes, to the uninitiated, like equal parts alcohol, sugar and coffee-pot slag. It puckers the cheeks, coats the tongue with syrupy sweetness and leaves a mouthwash feeling on the lips.

    This is coffee-flavored brandy. It is one of the odder stories of American imbibing, the number-one-for-20-years-running liquor obsession of Maine.

    The caffeine-infused spirit, largely unknown outside New England, is a staple at house parties, mill town bars and urban street corners here -- popular enough that a Bangor newspaperman once suggested putting it on the back of Maine's state quarter.

    On the other hand: "I've thought, in more than one case, that you can put it on someone's headstone," said Erik Steele, an emergency-room physician who works at four hospitals in rural Maine.

    In this state, it turns out, everything that is both fun and tragic about alcohol is embodied in the same intensely bittersweet drink.

    "People are addicted to coffee brandy here," said Barbara Dacri, executive director of a Portland-based treatment center called Crossroads for Women.

    Compared with those of other states, Maine's totals of chronic and binge drinkers are not terrifically high. But officials say alcohol remains this state's most readily available and widely destructive drug, cited by 59 percent of those seeking substance-abuse treatment here.

    And in Maine, officials say you can't talk about alcohol for long without talking about one particular brand: At last tally, the best-selling bottle of hard liquor in the state was the roughly half-gallon container of Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy. The No. 2 seller was . . . the liter-size bottle of Allen's.

    According to the state, Allen's sells 98,000 cases of its 60-proof spirit a year -- more than double the second-best-selling spirit. It has been Maine's favorite for two decades.

    "We're very grateful to the consumers of Maine," said Gary Shaw, a vice president at M.S. Walker Inc., which makes Allen's by combining coffee extracts with "neutral brandy" at its plant in a Boston suburb.

    At Raena's Pub in the northern city of Bangor, bartender Carrie Smith said she can easily spot the brandy drinkers.

    "Bleached-blonde, teased hair. . . . They always play the 'Redneck Woman' song" on the jukebox, she said, describing the typical drinker who orders a "sombrero," or Allen's mixed with milk. Smith said she once saw a woman dump her cocktail on the head of a beer-drinking man who referred to the drink by its nickname, "fat ass in a glass."

    Mainers say Allen's is sometimes favored by vagrants, who like its low price, or by teenagers, who mainly like beer but sometimes choose Allen's because it lacks the burn of other hard stuff.

    But, in the world of coffee brandy drinkers, women seem to be the core customers.

    One recent afternoon at a halfway house run by Crossroads for Women outside downtown Portland, all but one of nine women had a story about coffee brandy, and she wasn't from Maine.

    The others in the living room talked about how they would pour it in morning coffee, hide it in a Dunkin' Donuts cup, or take it to school in a water bottle. How, in Portland's housing projects, its nickname was "gorilla milk" because it turned people into animals. How the milkshake taste of a sombrero drew them in and the coffee buzz kept them going.

    "I can drink coffee brandy for 24 hours," said Amy, 38, who like the others asked that her last name not be used. "And the caffeine and the booze even each other out."

    "You can down 'em," agreed Catrina, 26.

    Lori, 28, said she remembered her mother drinking Allen's when she was growing up, and smiled at her own memories of the syrupy drink with a kick. "That initial warm from drinking," she said, relishing the thought. "It's like, 'Whew!' "

    But soon after, another idea stopped her: "My kids, that's what they'll remember me drinking."

    The story of brandy's influence is also written in the state's police logs, where the drink and in particular the Allen's brand have shown up in connection with crimes both odd and heartbreaking.

    In 2003, a woman from Penobscot dug up the ashes of her boyfriend, then later explained, "I never would have done that if I hadn't been drinking Allen's," according to a report from the time. A year before, a man from Bangor had been discovered asleep in a stranger's bed wearing stolen pink underwear; he explained later that he had consumed a half-gallon of brandy.

    One of the most notorious incidents involving coffee brandy occurred in 1997, when a drunken driver with a half-empty bottle in his car plowed into a car at a Maine Turnpike tollbooth. A woman and her daughter in the other car were killed.

    Police say they notice the drink showing up in less newsworthy incidents all the time -- on the kitchen counter during a domestic-violence call, in the car of youths caught shoplifting liquor. Officer Ryan Reardon of Waterville, Maine, said he has encountered coffee brandy so many times that he can find it with his nose.

    "Just by smell, you can tell someone's been drinking it," he said, asserting that the sickly sweet, alcoholic odor emanates from the skin.

    Thomas J. Connolly, a defense lawyer in Portland, said he believes that the combination of caffeine and alcohol in coffee brandy makes it worse than other liquors: "It's like an ideal food for crime."

    "It keeps you awake, it keeps you going, it keeps you sexualized," said Connolly, who said he has heard a client explain, "I was drinking Allen's, and then I was in the blackie" -- blacked out.

    Many officials in Maine don't agree. To their minds, there is nothing particularly sinister about the makeup of Allen's or any other kind of coffee brandy.

    The only thing these drinks are, they say, is popular.

    "If it wasn't Allen's, it would be something," said Steele, the emergency-room physician, who is also chief medical officer for a regional hospital chain. "Alcohol itself is the problem."

    Another article here, at the Portland Press Herald, and one by Bill Trotter over at the Bangor Daily News.


    Mark LaFlamme said...

    At the Sun Journal, we ran this column online but kept it out of our print edition.

    Anonymous said...

    Pour some Diet Moxie into a glass or plastic cup, then pour some Allen's on top of that. You have just concocted a "Welfare Mom."

    I have also heard the following ACB nicknames:

    -Burnt Trailer
    -Domestic Violence

    Kilroy said...

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am researching this topic for a private matter and this is very helpful and informative.

    Scheherazade said...

    Allen's Coffee Brandy + Milk = "Pale Mainer"

    Our version of the White Russian.

    guy ingham said...

    THIS IS ALSO KNOWN AS LIQUID PANTIE least thats what it has been known to me...and really works :)

    Michelle said...

    Follow-up responses from readers include a link from Maine musician Lindsey Montana to a video for his acoustic song that some of you may enjoy, "Bitch Whiskey" --

    Anonymous said...

    Bitch Whiskey. I drink it too much, and the caffeine and alcohol seem to make you crazy.