You might be familiar with other barrel aged drinks. Bourbon, wine, and beer both have barrel aged specialty options out there.
But what about coffee?
Yes, coffee can be barrel aged to give your morning cup unique flavors.
Despite what it might sound like, your coffee isn’t poured into an old whiskey barrel for a few weeks before you drink it.
Instead, the green coffee beans are allowed to sit in old barrels of whiskey or other spirits for a few days to a few weeks. After that, the beans are sent to the roaster where they are roasted normally.
Only then are the beans packaged and available to you.
The result is a delicious and unique flavor profile. The process gives you the coffee flavor you are used to with the addition of hints of whatever barrel your beans were aged in.
Will your coffee suddenly taste like whiskey? No.
Think of it like adding cinnamon to a hot chocolate. The cinnamon doesn’t take over the chocolate flavor but instead adds a little taste of cinnamon underneath the hot chocolate.
That’s all that barrel aged coffee does. But it’s phenomenal.
Aging specialty drinks have been around for centuries. After all, wine increases in value when aged and the same is true for most liquors.
In fact, coffee is rather an anomaly in the specialty drink world because of the preference for freshness.
A lot of people won’t even consider a bag of beans that’s more than a month old.
But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the early days of coffee, it was impossible to get fresh coffee simply because of the distance between coffee farms and the consumers.
The sea air and the time it took to travel around Africa before entering Europe altered the taste of the coffee. It was an inadvertent aging process.
Eventually, the coffee world developed a preference for the freshest coffee possible. That’s because the travel times dropped.
Recently, intentionally aged coffee has been on the rise. Specifically, barrel aged coffee.
The trend hasn’t taken off quite yet. It still occupies a niche market within the coffee world. But there are a number of great barrel aged coffees out there.
Believe me when I say that barrel aged coffee is like no other coffee you’ve ever tried. In my opinion, barrel aged coffee works best as a cold brew. You get more of the aromatics and intensity left over from the barrels.
For the same reason that the liquor in hot cocktails isn’t as strong, barrel aged coffee loses some of its taste and intensity. That’s because when you heat up barrel aged coffee, the last bits of the liquor flavor evaporate. That said, you’ll get a good noseful of the barrel, but it won’t make it into your mouth.
That being said, barrel aged coffee doesn’t lose all of its amazing flavors when brewed hot.
Expect your drink to still be coffee-forward. It will still have the same properties and profile as non-barrel aged coffees. But there will be a hint of whatever type of retired barrel your coffee was aged in.
The taste really hits on the finish and aftertaste of your sips. The pleasant sting and aroma of whiskey stick around in your mouth after your swallow. And in my experience pairs really nicely with the coffee flavors up front.
In a nutshell, barrel aged coffee still tastes like coffee. But the barrel-aging process adds a layer of liquor flavor that augments the coffee taste.
How is a Barrel Aged Coffee Made?
The barrel-aging process is actually pretty simple. It only adds one extra step for the roaster.
Once the coffee cherries have been dried and the beans themselves removed, the roaster is left with green beans. Usually, those beans are put straight into the roaster and roasted to either light, medium, or dark.
These are the coffee beans you will be used to seeing when opening a new bag of coffee. Their roast level can be anywhere from light to dark roast.
The barrel-aging process jumps in after the beans are pulled from the cherries but before they are sent into the roaster.
In the barrel-aging process, those green beans are put into retired liquor barrels. Usually, a bourbon barrel is a preferred type for aging coffee. But really any barrel, such as a rum barrel or wine barrel, can be used.
After the beans are put into the barrels, they are allowed to just sit there for anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.
It is only after that interval that the beans are taken out of the barrels and sent to the roaster.
The process looks the same as with regular coffee beans after that. The aged beans are roasted to a light, medium, or dark profile and look the same as non-aged coffee.
That being said, as soon as you open a bag of aged coffee, you will be hit with a strong smell of coffee and liquor. And believe me, it smells amazing.