Vanessa Wilton from Manly Spirits

We talk to Vanessa Wilton from Manly Spirits, about their Blackfin Coffee Liqueur and the cocktails you can make with it.

By: Tiff Christie|May 21,2019

As coffee culture has given rise to some classy new coffee liqueurs, we talk to Vanessa Wilton, founder of Manly Spirits about their Black Fin expression.

We ask about the name, discuss what makes Black Fin different from other Coffee Liqueurs and, of course, talk about what cocktails you can make.



[00:00:45] – Tell us about Manly Spirits
[00:01:11] – Was there a particular reason you set up the distillery in Manly?
[00:01:41] – Let’s start by explaining the name of your Coffee Liqueur
[00:03:25] – And why did you use that name for coffee Liqueur?
[00:04:22] – There are other Coffee Liqueurs on the market, why should people look to your?
[00:06:53] – If people haven’t come across cinnamon myrtle before, tell us about the flavour that imbues
[00:08:19] – What cocktails does it work well in?
[00:09:49] – If people are experimenting, what flavours does Black Fin go with?
[00:10:35] – Tell us more about the coffee roast that 7 Miles produced for you
[00:13:25] – The Coffee Liqueur is low ABV – how important is that at the moment?
[00:15:02] – Old style Coffee Liqueurs were often high in sugar …
[00:16:07] – Taking a bottle home, what should be the first cocktail made with it?
[00:17:58] – Where to get it
Read Full Transcript

Today we would like to welcome our guest, Vanessa from Manly Spirits. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Manly Spirits?

Manly Spirits is a distillery located on the northern beaches of Sydney, a pretty awesome place to be. We have been trading for just over 2 years and we produce or craft gins, botanical vodkas, liqueurs and single malt whiskey.

Was there a particular reason you thought Manly was a good place to set up a distillery?

I love being near the ocean as I am an ocean swimmer and a bad surfer and lifesaver and all that type of thing and we have tended to incorporate that into everything we do, the style of spirits we do at Manly Spirits.

You have recently come out with a coffee liqueur

Yes it’s very yummy

Let’s start off with the name, Blackfin

And yes what is Blackfin? It actually represents a sassy independent woman, to tell the truth. The actual Blackfin is actually the fin of a longboard surfboard. A lot of people think is it a dolphin, is it a shark and actually it is but it has a double meaning and is actually the fin of a surfboard. If you look at the label closer you can actually see it is the shape of a surfboard and then part of within Blackfin, and we do it with all our spirits, we try to use Australian natives so we have got the cinnamon myrtle and if you look at the image on the front there are little pods and they are cinnamon myrtle pods. So we actually put that in our coffee liqueur. The other pattern you can see is like that henna pattern you do if you went to a festival and having a great time and then you can see the wave on the top part of the fin. I guess Black Fin came around, it’s very much as a woman you don’t just sit and watch your boyfriend or husband going surfing or whatever, you go out with your own board and catch your own waves and the same thing when you go out at night you can have a good time, you earn money, you can buy your own drinks, no one has to tell you what to do and that is who Blackfin is and it’s a dangerously delicious coffee liqueur

Why did you use it specifically for the coffee liqueur though?

As in that name, again coffee liqueur is a dark colour so it is black, Black Fin is all to do with the ocean, it’s also to do with surfing and also I start my day, showing my true colours, I always have a coffee first thing in the morning and Manly and northern beaches is very much a coffee culture. You will get up in the morning and do an ocean swim or surf and then you will go and have a coffee or a shot of espresso and that’s what inspired me. I knew that we are great at making spirits and I thought dammit why don’t we make a coffee liqueur that combines all my passions, which is coffee, spirits and having a good time all in one product. So that’s Blackfin.

There are a number of other coffee liqueurs out in the market, why specifically should people look to yours.

I guess what we have done a little bit differently is we use a cold brew coffee, again you can’t be the experts on everything so we are not the experts on coffee roasting so we went to our mates at 7 Miles which is quite a large coffee roaster at Manly Vale and we worked with them. We did all this cupping of coffee and going through 50 million roasts, learnt a lot about coffee and the differences. I didn’t have the palette but the guys there were just amazing to come up with a roast that would work well in a liqueur because they didn’t know so much about spirits. So we combined with them, they do our beans for us. Then we learnt to do a cold brew. Lots of other coffee liqueurs are a cold brew coffee liqueur; we then took it one more step wherein our Gins and Vodkas we have learnt a lot about Australian natives so we distilled cinnamon myrtle. Say in our Gins, our Australian Dry we use anise myrtle; in our Limoncello Liqueur we use lemon myrtle and in our coffee, we use cinnamon myrtle. So we distilled that because we have a distillery and then we also used salt water that we got off Manly Beach or Freshwater Beach depending on the day and we reverse distilled salt water to make it into a higher concentration brine and we added that into our coffee liqueur. People are always asking why are we doing that and it all came from me, you know when you eat salted caramel chocolate and salt is a flavour enhancer and it also reduces the bitterness. Cold brew can sometimes be a touch bitter and we found by adding a little bit of salty brine, plus it also fits with who we are, we are all about the ocean and that type of thing, so you have got this Black Fin coffee liqueur which has a slight spicy, very subtle edge to it. So it’s not one dimensional.

If people haven’t come across cinnamon myrtle before, tell us about the flavour that imbues

It is very subtle slightly savoury but the whole essence of making anything, a good liqueur, a good gin is all about balance. You don’t want anything to dominate unnecessarily. So when you have our Black Fin coffee liqueur the dominant thing is the coffee and it really tastes like real coffee because it is. We don’t use any additives or flavours from a flavour house, it is cold brew coffee and then you will get that slight spicy, savoury cinnamon note of the cinnamon myrtle will come through. So it just adds a little slightly old spice, very subtle in the coffee liqueur. Our coffee liqueur is not super sweet and then it’s not super bitter. There are some on the market that are a lot more bitter, ours is right in the middle. It is targeted to both the bar and the consumer as well who respects coffee. It’s just beautiful over ice.

What sort of cocktails does it work well in. The obvious thing, of course, would be an Espresso Martini

Yes so you have your Espresso Martini, we actually do slight variations because we make botanical vodkas as well so we will do our Black Fin X Martini which would be Black Fin, we use our Marine Vodka, then a bit of our Terra Firma vodka as well which has got roasted wattle seed which goes really well with coffee and espresso. What you can also do is it goes really well with tonic which is quite interesting. We are just launching it in the UK as well and they quite look the Black Fin with tonic water which is quite interesting. You can also put it in what we call is a Pick Me Up Negroni which Blackfin, Sweet Vermouth and some Australian Dry Gin then Campari, some espresso, so that is pretty good as well. Also, you can put it in like a White Russian where you put Blackfin Coffee Liqueur, a bit of our Terra Firma Vodka, some vanilla syrup and half milk half cream. Or you can go with it as a dessert like an Afragarto, that’s pretty awesome, like a big scoop of ice-cream, some fresh espresso and Blackfin.

People are experimenting at home, what sort of flavours does something like the Black Fin go really well with?

If they don’t want to have Blackfin just on its own which a lot of people do. They just have it over ice or with some coconut water even if you want to go a bit more healthy. You have to remember that a coffee liqueur doesn’t have as much alcohol as say a gin or a vodka. It’s only got 25% ABV which is quite good, it is not as boozy for those who want to have less but you can put it in say a Negroni with Campari and some Sweet Vermouth and you can put it with Vodka.

Tell us a little bit more about the roast for the coffee buffs out there that 7 Mile have produced for you

We haven’t gone from one location like just Ethiopia or PNG so the beans have come from all over the place. They tend to be Arabica beans, the challenge with making a cold brew is oxidisation so it does take about 18 hours to make a good cold brew from the roast. We didn’t want anything too heavy, we didn’t want anything that was insipid as well.
As a child, my father used to own a coffee plantation in the Hinterland of Byron Bay so as a child I would have to go up there and we would be drying all the green beans. People don’t realise that coffee on the tree is red berries. They only think of coffee as brown but it is actually a fleshy seed, a bean, inside of a red fleshy fruit which then you need to put in with a whole lot of enzymes so all the fleshy bit goes away and then you have to dry the beans, so the beans are green and they are put on drying racks out in the sun. I had to spend my youth grinding and packing coffee which when you have done that for 7 hours straight …

You would be the coffee expert then

I don’t know, all I wanted to do was go to the beach or go surfing and I had to pack all these orders of coffee for my father. He has sold that now and so yes I have had a bit of a passion for coffee all my life. It was pretty cool I managed to convince my team here to make me a coffee liqueur

Well it makes perfect sense

Yes, so I hope everyone else gives it a go because I think they might be quite surprised. The coffee liqueurs that are coming from the Australian craft spirit scene is an incredible improvement to what was around back in the olden days. Very much the same as Gin which was always Gordons or one dimensional and now it’s totally changed and the same with coffee liqueur now. It’s about time everyone gave it a chance and another go.

You were talking about the fact that its low AVB being a liqueur. How important do you think that is at the moment?

I think the trends that are moving forward. Oh, I have just been given a breakfast martini to try, I have such a hard life working here. Mmm, just having a sip, rather nice, rather nice indeed.
I think there is a big push and you will see it coming out a lot in the media and also from big retailers for drinks to be reduced in alcohol content but not in flavour and that is the challenge for all distillers to be able to produce really tasty spirits that don’t make you fall off your chair after two drinks. People, I think, want to be able to have a few more drinks and still be able to go home and get up the next day. We have a cocktail bar within our distillery and we serve cocktails but with reduced alcohol, so you are not getting your normal 60mls plus of alcohol in the one drink but they still taste just as flavoursome as a normal cocktail It’s just being more creative with spirits. You can come up with some pretty amazing tasty drinks.

Now a coffee liqueur tends to have a bit of a reputation for being somewhat high in sugar if you think back to the 70’s versions of it.

If you taste it … when people do, they go wow this tastes like real coffee. I think a lot of the coffee liqueurs back in the 70’s, 80’s they weren’t necessarily really coffee they were coffee flavours. So they were very sickly and sweet whereas we have tried to harness what Australians love which good coffee. We make good coffee here, we roast good coffee and we like drinking good coffee so our coffee liqueur is very much pure coffee focused and I think people will get pleasantly surprised when they taste it. It’s not like drinking a sickly, sweet at all, yes it does have some sugar because that is what a liqueur is but it is a lot less.

If I were to buy a bottle of Black Fin and take it home and I had never had coffee liqueur before, what would you suggest would be the first cocktail I should make.

I firstly would purely put a whole lot of ice cubes in your glass, put Black Fin in your fridge and then pour it over the ice cubes in your glass and sit and drink it. I am pretty confident, everyone who does it says oh my gosh this is so nice. It’s not like drinking espresso coffee at all and it’s not like drinking a really sweet liqueur. It’s actually really nice to drink. Then I guess secondly if you really wanted to make something easy you could add a light tonic and try it that way. If you wanted to make yourself an Espresso Martini at home it’s not really that hard. Most people have their espresso, stick your pod, so you get your espresso, you add some vodka, we would like you to use Manly Spirits Marine Vodka but whatever, and then add your Blackfin liqueur. If you don’t have a shaker, put a lot of ice in a jar, put the lid on and shake it a lot. Then pour it through a little strainer and happy days. It may not look quite as fabulous as your bartender does but it will taste just as good.

Where to get it

If anyone wants it you can find Black Fin at some independent bottle shops, so more the premium bottle shops, or online from our website. If you buy any 2 bottles it is free freight.

Does that work for international orders as well?

Not yet for international orders. In the UK we have stock which has just landed and gone through customs so it should be in the UK and that also services Europe through Masters of Malt will be having it. From Australia we are only supplying nationally, we are not shipping to Singapore or Malaysia yet.


To buy Blackfin Coffee Liqueur or get more info, go to

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Vanessa Wilton from Manly Spirits

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