Welcome to “One Last Question,” a series where research editor Matthew Reed Baker tackles your most Bostonian conundrums. Have a question? Email him at [email protected].
I’ve always thought of Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy as a Maine product, but on my last trip up north, I noticed the label says it’s made right here in Boston! It seems like hardly anyone around here has ever heard of the stuff, so why is it so wildly popular with our neighbors? —M.F., Swampscott
“Heritage. Tradition. Maine.” So says the Allen’s Coffee Brandy website, styled in fancy cursive on the home page. I looked there after receiving your question, M.F., because this subject tickled my taste buds. You see, I’ve been married into a Midcoast Maine family for most of the past 20 years, and I’ve long heard about this iconic elixir, always mixed with whole milk…but as none of my in-laws drink it, neither have I. So in the name of research, I decided to finally try it for myself.
My wife’s family told me Mainers typically stock up at their local convenience store, so while I gassed up my car on a visit to the Pine Tree State this summer, I grabbed a bottle of Allen’s and a half-gallon jug of Oakhurst whole milk. Indeed, the label said it was brewed by Allen’s Ltd. in Boston, which I later found is owned by the Norwood-based wine-and-spirits merchant M.S. Walker. Yet when the liqueur was introduced in the 1960s, it was a hit in Maine, and it still is today. That might explain why the website is all about Vacationland: how generations of lobstermen used a dose of Allen’s in their morning coffee to warm up, how Mainers now drink it during mud season or when they’re heading “upta camp,” and so on.
I like the lobstermen lore, but if you ask me, the brand loyalty has more to do with efficiency than romance: At 60 proof, Allen’s is more potent than 40-proof Kahlúa, and roughly half the price of that more famous coffee liqueur. As the real Maine—not the Martha Stewart Maine—is not a wealthy state, it makes sense that the more frugal way to get crocked would be preferred.
When I returned home, I tried it straight—oof, how can something be sickeningly sweet and intensely acrid at the same time? But once I mixed it with ice and whole milk, it was an entirely new beverage, one that felt cozy and warm and refreshing at the same time. I had another, and one more. I thought about the grandmother in the store who saw me buying the bottle, smiled, and told me that it’s her son’s favorite, too. But then the whole milk filled my stomach at the same time the buzz hit my head, and I didn’t want anymore…not for a long time. But hey, as the website says, it’s “a cultural rite of passage,” so I finally had mine, I guess.
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