Maine residents buy a lot of Allen’s Coffee Brandy, the state’s top-selling spirit. As of 2016, they bought two-and-a-half times more cases of Allen’s than of the state’s next-most popular spirits—Orloff Vodka and Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. Unlike Captain Morgan, though, Allen’s is not a top seller anywhere else.
It’s also not actually brandy. Allen’s is a liqueur made from neutral grain spirit mixed with coffee bean extract and sweetener. Brandy, in contrast, is made by distilling wine.
Maine residents take no offense at Allen’s dishonest labeling; it’s still a more popular choice than vodka or whiskey. Most often, the faux-brandy is served one of two ways: hot in a cup of coffee (a favorite among Maine fishermen since the 1960s) or cold in a glass of milk. The latter is available at virtually every bar in the state—just ask the bartender for a “Sombrero.” Other fond nicknames for the popular pairing include “fat ass in a glass,” “moose milk,” “leg spreadah,” and “lily of the tundra.”
The ubiquity of Allen’s Coffee Brandy in Maine alone begs the question: Why? It’s not even made in-state. Allen’s is a product of Somerville, Massachusetts, but around 75 percent of the product is sold in Maine. One explanation is New England’s obsession with strong drip-style coffee. Long, cold winters and a Puritanical work ethic make a hot cup of coffee an obvious choice for the hard-working people of Maine.
Why not drink a well-known coffee liqueur, like Kahlua? Allen’s is cheaper, which makes it easy to forgive the “funny copper edge” that people look to milk or coffee to cover up. Couple a regional allegiance to coffee with 30 percent alcohol by volume, then sell it for less than the other guys, and you’ve got the key to Maine’s heart.