Pedro Domecq started producing Kahlúa in 1936. It was called Kahlúa, meaning “House of the Acolhua people” in the Veracruz Nahuatl language communicated before the Spanish Conquest. Kahlúa was Hispanicized as Ulúa, establishing the name of the modern San Juan de Ulúa fortress. Jules Berman was the first importer of liquor to the United States, earning him the nickname “Mr. Kahlua.”
The business joined in 1994 with Allied Lyons to develop Allied Domecq. In turn, that business was partially acquired in 2005 by Pernod Ricard, the largest spirits distributor globally, ever since its merger with the Swedish Vin & Sprit in March 2008.
Since 2004, the alcohol content of Kahlúa is 20.0%; earlier versions had 26.5%. In 2002, a more costly, high-end product called “Kahlúa Especial” became available in the United States, Canada, and Australia after being presented only in duty-free marketplaces. Made with arabica coffee beans cultivated in Veracruz, Mexico, Kahlúa Especial has an alcohol content of 36%, has a lesser viscosity, and is less sweet than the regular version.
In January 2019, the brand opened a new eco-program to source 100% of its coffee sustainably by the year 2022. Director of sustainable development Billy King intends to “bring positive change to the lives of Mexican coffee growers and their families.” At the time, Kahlua said that social unity, gender equality, and education within coffee-growing communities were other vital focuses for the program.