Whiskey & (Rum) Barrell Aged Coffee - The New Coffee Phenomena
Innovation is essential in all industries including the coffee industry. Coffee producers are constantly looking to implement new ground-breaking ways of cultivating and processing coffee beans, focusing on greater quality and to receive a fairer price. Breaking boundaries can be risky and a vast amount of work, not all methods will work out, and it can take years of trial and error to produce something special, delicious, and repeatable.
Last year at Redber Coffee, I found something incredibly special. Inheriting two fresh wet bourbon whiskey casks from a friend in the spirits industry, I set out in my discovery of the world of barrel aged coffee beans.
Wet whiskey barrels are not normally what you are looking for when it comes to specialty coffee, because when you talk about mixing the flavour profiles of wooden barrels & coffee, you are into a whole new world of excellence. The barrels we have been used to make bourbon whiskey, and therefore have been charred on the inside. Once the whiskey has been aged in the barrel, it’s emptied, filtered and bottled. However, there is a residual layer of whiskey that has soaked into the cask that remains, this is called the Devil’s Cut. This is the whiskey that our coffee beans absorb!
I found that the barrel aging green coffee process is a method of improving, enhancing, and accentuating the intricate and intrinsic attributes of a coffee beans flavour and composition, without damaging its structure and with nominal risk in introducing negative characteristics.
It might sound like a basic process, put some green coffee beans in a used whiskey barrel and monitor to see what happens. However, it took quite a lot of research and development, trial and error and fine-tuning to get the perfect result. We needed to be clever and open minded, we wanted perfection. There were a few factors to consider; which coffee beans to use according to flavour profiles and moisture percentages, what kind of barrels to use, how did the whiskey affect the sugar content of the beans prior to roasting and how long should we age the coffee for?
Green coffee is hygroscopic and therefore susceptible to picking up aromas and flavours from its environment. This can be difficult for everyone involved from farmers, coffee importers and roasters.
When barrel aging green coffee beans, timing can be everything. Leaving green beans in a wet barrel for a long period of time may result in a staggeringly unpleasant taste experience. If we don’t age them enough and we may not get those delicious, honey, boozy, woody flavour notes from the barrel.
After a few coffee bean trials, we established that the coffee we chose had to have a citrus, chocolate, and nut profiles, with a preferred cupping score of 85+.
At Redber we are fortunate to have over 40 different coffees from across the globe, but no standard coffee would do. I wanted something unique in flavour, but also from a unique climate which (after days of discussions and chatting to contacts) led me to Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America sandwiched between Costa Rica to the South and Honduras to the north with the Caribbean to the East and Pacific West coast. It’s lush tropical vegetation, high mountains (often volcanic) and temperate climate give it the perfect climate for agriculture.
This single origin coffee I chose, comes from the mountainous, North West region of Nicaragua called Matagalpa. These Matagalpa washed beans are shade grown at high altitudes which ensures each cup has a superior quality, balancing a unique profile of low acidity with a crisp, fruity snap. With a medium roast, the flavours that emerge are reminiscent of a chocolate orange – chocolate, sweet caramel and nuts coupled with orange and honey.
While the height of plantations and farms varies throughout the nation, many of the best beans are grown at altitudes between 3600 and 5250 feet above sea level. Though there are some lower regions as well, most Nicaraguan coffee is classified as “high grown” and meets the Strictly High Grown coffee specifications.
Once the green coffee and barrels were selected, the green coffee lots are blended and placed into the whiskey barrels. The parchment skin of the coffee is left in during this process; it is usually removed after drying during hulling before the beans are shipped. The green coffee is then left to age for four to eight weeks, sometimes 12 to 18 weeks for something very special, this length of time results in a complex, sweet, boozy, and deeply satisfying brew. We then lovingly hand roast to the beans to order, to a medium dark profile to allow the whiskey barrel flavours to sing!
With the huge success and following of this project we have now obtained a Rum and Brandy Barrel to start experimenting with!