Coffee is now rivalling the likes of wine and whisky, establishing itself as a surprise newcomer to the range of drinks that get better with age. As artisanal coffee has recently stepped into the spotlight, its rise in consumer popularity has contributed to the blossoming scene of barrel-aged coffee. Once reserved for wines and liquors, this trend now sees porous green coffee beans placed in old barrels previously used to house liquor. Believed to have originated from South America, this process lasts for two to eight weeks to enable the beans’ complete absorption of the taste and aroma from its corresponding alcohol. Though mixing alcohol and coffee isn’t a foreign practice, the adoption of such an unorthodox technique demands a higher appreciation to match the more discerning tastebuds of today’s coffee consumers.
AT A RIPE OLD AGE
The trickiest part for baristas who hope to perfect this approach is matching the coffee varieties with complementary barrel aromas, ultimately to ensure that the alcohol enhances the coffee instead of overpowering its taste. A common setback, however, is the unpredictable nature of the barrel’s wood, as they are sensitive to extenuating circumstances such as weather conditions. If customers are now selective, baristas are required to double down on that trait, being they’re responsible for selecting the right types of beans to imbue. Though not necessarily always the case, a general rule of thumb for handpicking these beans would be through opting for beans that are high in body and low in acidity, allowing them to develop well-textured flavours as they age.
RULING THE ROAST
After this practice is employed and the beans are roasted, the resultant coffee is usually complex, with notes that resonate with the barrel’s liquor minus the alcohol. Depending on the chosen beans, overarching flavours range from a subtle, mellow smokiness to fragrant and sharply pronounced. The liquors, too, are instrumental in influencing nuance in its coffee’s palette. Brighter alcohols such as wine and rum barrelled-coffees often accrue sweeter, fresher finishes, while robust liquors such as whisky and bourbon tend to amass woodier notes with hints of caramel and chocolate. Regardless of flavour preference, neither barista nor customer can deny how this scientifically-precise method has effectively altered the art of coffee craftsmanship.