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Mystic couple launches line of hard iced coffee

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Mystic — Former Connecticut College lacrosse coach Dave Cornell and his wife, Amy, often enjoyed mixing iced coffee cocktails while enjoying the fire pit in the yard of their Hatch Street home or before heading out to dinner downtown. 

It wasn't long before friends and family members began telling the self-described "iced coffee fanatics" they were on to something. Over the next two years, the couple fine-tuned their recipes and last year, with the assistance of consultant Jason Kane, who helped create Mike's Hard Lemonade, they launched a line of hard iced coffee.

Prima Barista Hard Iced Coffee, made from a blend of gourmet coffee, premium vodka, real cream and natural flavors, and with an alcohol content of 12.5%, is now available in four states including Connecticut, where distribution began last month.

"I noticed that everyone was drinking iced coffee and we wondered if we could do something like this," said Cornell, a Long Island native who briefly worked in sales for Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery after he graduated from college. 

He said the reception to Prima Barista, which is unique in the marketplace, has been "awesome."

"It's been great going to the retailers and having them taste it," he said, adding that restaurants and bars also use it in cocktails.

What sets Prima Barista apart from its competitors, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee and La Colombe Hard Coffee, a MillerCoors release, is that those are malt-based products while Prima Barista uses vodka. 

Prima Barista comes in two flavors, Vanilla Hard Latte and Mocha Hard Frappe, and a four-pack retails for $17.99. While the price may seem steep, Cornell said people often pay $4 to $5 for a Starbucks coffee and spirited coffee drinks in bar and restaurants can cost much more than that.

Cornell said the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring derailed plans to launch the hard coffee in New England as restaurants and other businesses shut down.

"It was a crazy time for us to come out," he said, but added that his 23 years of coaching collegiate lacrosse taught him to always have a plan B and C in case plan A did not work out.  

So they began distributing the coffee in Indiana, Florida and New Jersey, with Connecticut coming online in December. Plans are to begin selling the product in Colorado in the next few months. More flavors are planned.

Even though it's been available in Connecticut for just a month, Cornell said that as of Dec. 31, the hard coffee was being sold at 110 package stores and restaurants across the state. In Mystic, it can be purchased at the Cask 'n Keg liquor store, and two downtown bars: the Harp and Hound and Friar Tuck's Tavern.

Cornell said that plans eventually call for 10% of profits to be donated to charity, possibly local organizations that combat hunger.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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