My Dad’s Infamous Coffee Liqueur

My dad in his happy place!

My dad was a hoot! He could tell a story like no one else. Tell a joke with perfect timing. He was stubborn, funny, a devoted dad, loved the outdoors, and taught me skills I use everyday. And he made awesome coffee liqueur!

Dad loved making this liqueur and it was a staple in our house. I don’t remember too many bottles of commercially made coffee liqueur in our house growing up and I’m not sure whether he liked his better, really enjoyed making it, or was just that frugal that he didn’t want to buy it. I’m leaning toward the latter…

One of Dad’s favorite places was a rustic fishing camp called Lake HiHium in British Columbia, Canada. It’s called a Fishing Resort, but there’s no spa, no restaurant, no electricity, no running water, and you can only get to your lodging by boat. It was awesome! You stayed in individual cabins scattered remotely throughout the lake area, cooked on old wood-fired stoves, kept cold foods in antique ice boxes you filled with ice from the ice house that stored ice harvested off the lake each winter, and just enjoyed being off-grid. He started going there after I’d become an adult and I was lucky enough to go with him one year.

Dad making breakfast on the wood stove.

One of my favorite stories about my dad comes from his trips to Lake HiHium. Because the camp was in Canada, there were things we couldn’t bring across the border or had to pay duty (tax) on if brought with us. This included fresh fruits and vegetables, and alcohol. When you cross the border into Canada you and your vehicle are subject for search for these contraband items, which could be confiscated and you could be fined or even jailed. He always stopped in a town across the border to get these things, but alcohol was super expensive in Canada and it irritated him to no end that he had to pay so much for it there. All he wanted was some coffee liqueur and vodka for an evening cocktail at the cabin.

Rustic cabin at Lake HiHium

So one year he’d had enough and devised a plan to bring his own alcohol. He purchased two new 1-gallon gasoline containers, marked one straight gas and the other mixed fuel. He filled one with vodka and the other with his coffee liqueur and strapped them on top of his vehicle and drove to fish camp! They never checked these fuel tanks at the border and this became his way of taking alcohol to camp every year. It tickled him to no end to ask guests at his cabin if they’d like a drink and then watch their reaction as he poured them a glass of Mixed Fuel from the fuel can over chipped ice!

I can share that story now that he’s passed away and no longer transporting his alcohol this way! I think he is so lucky he was never caught doing this! Face-palm and shake my head…

Dad on the lake in the distance at sunset. Yes, he would stand in the boat to fish and even motor about.

Makings Dad’s Coffee Liqueur

I used to help Dad make his coffee liqueur growing up. It’s really pretty easy, is a great zero waste project, and makes nice gifts. Keep empty bottles to bottle your liqueur in and use the spent coffee grounds in your compost, worm bin, or other zero waste projects. All you need is coffee, water, sugar, vanilla extract, and grain alcohol (Everclear) or vodka, if you cannot get grain alcohol.

You start by boiling a pound of coffee grounds in water. Dad always used Yuban, but I like to use the Peet’s Coffee we drink every day. Peet’s is great because they’ll grind beans right into our own container and give us a discount for not using one of their coffee bags.

Boiling the coffee.

After 20 minutes, strain the coffee about five times to get all the grounds out. We used old flour sack towels in a Chinois for this for years and years until a friend of Dad’s who had a coffee shop in town gave him a cold brew coffee setup, like this one on Amazon. I think the flour sack towels or a nut milk or straining bag in a Chinois with a stand works just fine, so don’t go out and buy anything special.

Straining coffee through a mesh bag in a Chinois in a stand.

Next boil sugar in water for 45 minutes so it gets syrupy.

Let the sugar syrup cool before combining the strained coffee and sugar syrup. Then add vanilla extract and grain alcohol (or vodka) and mix well. Note, if you forget the vanilla, the coffee liqueur won’t taste right. Dad and I made a batch years ago that was really awful and we couldn’t figure it out. Then we realized it was missing vanilla, which we rectified by pouring all of the liqueur out of the bottles into a big pot and mixing extract in and rebottling. It’s surprising what a big difference that little bit of vanilla makes!

Pour your liqueur into bottles and enjoy! It tastes better if you let it age a couple of weeks. I don’t really recommend storing it in a mixed fuel can…

Bottles from a single batch of Dad’s coffee liqueur recipe.

It’s way less expensive to make your own coffee liqueur than to buy it. And, frankly, I think it tastes so much better! Cheers!

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3.69 from 16 votes

Coffee Liqueur

My dad was famous for his coffee liqueur! I used to help him make it growing up. It makes great zero waste gifts! Use the spent coffee grounds in your garden, compost, or worm bin.
Course Drinks, Zero Waste
Cuisine Nut-Free, Party, Soy-Free, Tex-Mex
Author Cindy Thompson, MS, NBC-HWC | Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching


  • 1 pound ground coffee my dad insisted on Yuban, but use your favorite type and roast
  • 3 3/4 quarts water divided
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 2 oz vanilla extract
  • 750 ml grain alcohol, 190 proof or vodka, if you cannot buy grain alcohol in your state


Boil the Coffee

  • Boil the coffee in 1-3/4 quarts of water for 20 minutes. 
  • Strain 4-6 times through cotton flour sack towels, cheesecloth, wire mesh strainer, or French press. It's a great use for stained flour sack towels that you don't want to use in the kitchen anymore—just know they will be permanently stained brown and become your coffee liqueur straining towels from this point forward!

Make Sugar Syrup

  • Boil 7 cups of sugar in 2 quarts of water for 45 minutes.

Make Liqueur

  • Combine coffee, sugar syrup, vanilla, and grain alcohol and mix well. Don't forget the vanilla! The liqueur won't taste right without it (speaking from experience)!
  • Bottle and enjoy!


Makes 4 fifths.

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  1. angela on August 28, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    How should it be stored and for how long will it be good?

    • Cindy Thompson, Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching on August 28, 2020 at 2:22 pm

      Just store in a glass bottle like you would store any liqueur. Should store indefinitely, like Kahlua would store.

  2. Connie G on April 16, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    5 stars
    I am so happy to find your Dad’s recipe! This is how we use to make it, but it’s been a few years & I’d forgotten the proportions.
    Used to give it as Christmas gifts.
    Thank so much. Your father sounds like a real peach!
    I’m going to make a batch this weekend. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • Cindy Thompson, MS, NBC-HWC | Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching on April 16, 2024 at 1:09 pm

      Wonderful! Enjoy!

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