As the owner and operator of two popular – and whiskey-centric – restaurants in Manhattan, Tommy Tardie was too busy to take on side projects.
Then, the pandemic hit. “Both venues were temporarily closed, and I had an enormous amount of time on my hands,” Tardie says. “I was looking for a side project and thought of pairing my love of whiskey with my other passion: coffee.”
Tardie spent more than a year researching and experimenting – and “drinking lots and lots of coffee – with his wife Davi, and the two created The Morning Dram, a new line of barrel-aged coffees for spirits enthusiasts.
“We start with the coffee,” Tardie explains.
The coffee is graded 80+ on a 100-point scale by a certified coffee taster or by a licensed Q grader. “It was very important that we star with an exceptional coffee bean,” he says.
The beans are then rested in used spirits barrels, primarily whiskey, to bring out the natural flavors of the fine beans. “The goal of resting the beans in a barrel is to enhance the beans with complimenting flavors,” he says. “We didn’t want the beautiful taste of great coffee to be masked by alcohol.”
The beans rest in the barrels for several months, but there is not a set aging time. The barrels are monitored for moisture, and sample roasts are conducted throughout the aging process. “The green beans interact differently depending on how fresh the cask are, the humidity in the warehouse, and the amount that we rotate the casks,” Tardie says. “Ultimately, I pull the beans when I think they are ready.”
The coffees have no alcohol in them and no artificial flavors are added. “It’s just exceptional coffee with hints of the spirit that was previously in the barrel,” Tardie says. “From the moment you open the bag, you smell that amazing coffee aroma. It’s not a slam over the head; it’s subtle and delicious.”
The first few batches the duo made were taste tested by family and friends, but to get honest feedback, Tardie sent their product to some of his contacts in the industry – people who have “some of the best palates in the business.” They included Dr. Bill lumsden of Glenmorangie, Richard Paterson of The Dalmore, Dr. Rachel Barrie of Glendronach, Wes Henderson of Angel’s Envy, Ralph Erenzo of Hudson Whiskey, Heather Greene of Milam & Greene, and whiskey author Clay Risen. “Their feedback was unanimous – they loved it,” Tardie says. “That was the moment I knew I needed to take to the public.”
The Morning Dram began being sold online and in Tardie’s two restaurants, The Flatiron Room and Fine & Rare. “We’ve recently partnered with a few distilleries who are also selling it at their gift stores, and some have actually sent us their casks to do private barrel aged coffee in,” he says.
The Morning Dram’s most popular item sold is their starter kit, $99, which includes one bag of bourbon barrel-aged beans, one bag of rye barrel-aged beans, one bag House Blend No. 1, a stainless steel dripper, an enamel camp mug and a hand grinder. “It’s everything you need to brew the perfect cup of coffee,” he says. The other popular, selling item is a coffee combo pack, $89, which includes three different barrel aged blends and the house blend. They also sell subscription boxes, and gift subscriptions, which are growing in popularity.
“Soon, we’ll be launching a line of single origin coffees, and I expect this to be very popular, as well,” he says. “It’s very exciting to see it growing so quickly.”