One of the latest trends in brewhouses and cafes around the country in recent years is Bourbon Barrel aged coffee beans. The rich pairing of flavors from the bourbons infused into Grade 1 single origin coffee beans is an incredible experience, one that pleases both coffee and whiskey enthusiasts alike.
But what exactly is the taste profile of bourbon barrel aged coffee beans, and what factors go into influencing the taste of the final cup? Let’s look at the range of elements and skills that go into creating a bourbon barrel aged coffee bean and what you can do at home to help your coffee reach its full potential.
What are bourbon barrel aged coffee beans?
Just as the name suggests, bourbon barrel aged coffee beans are green beans that are rested in the spent bourbon casks from distilleries. While spending six to eight weeks stored in the air tight casks, the beans absorb the flavors and character from each barrel and infuse with the amazing aromas of whatever was in the barrel before them.
Our expert roasters will take samples from the barrel as the process goes along to be roasted and cupped. Once the beans are judged to be at their optimum level of absorption the barrel load is roasted and ready to be ground for brewing.
What influences the beans’ taste
There are a myriad of factors that influence the taste profile, and a whole load of knowledge that goes into ensuring that it reaches the peak of its potential.
Firstly the origin of the coffee; where the coffee cherry was grown. Known as the ‘bean belt’, the area between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn provide the ideal climate for growing coffee; South America, Central Africa and South Asia primarily.
The climate, altitude and the soil that they’re grown in all contribute towards the taste profile and each region – even each farm will have a distinct character but broadly speaking; Asian coffees are earthy and sweet, Africans are bright and acidic and American beans are nutty and mild. These fluctuate over the course of the year and while many roasters will blend a mixture of beans for a consistent product, increasingly coffee drinkers are preferring to opt for a single origin that lets the work of the farmer shine.
Next comes the selection of the barrel. American Oak bourbon barrels can only be used once so are in high demand for barrel aging. The fresh white oak retains the character of the spirits distilled in it and imparts it to the beans.
Pairing the right barrel with the appropriate spirit takes skill; the spicy notes of a rye will complement a coffee with an earthy tobacco note, the nutty caramel of a Colombian with a sweet bourbon. Knowing when to complement and when to contrast are an essential part of the art of pairing.
Roasting a barrel aged coffee
Barrel aging will give the green beans a higher level of natural sugars than an untreated green bean. This means that a dark Italian roast style might lose a lot of the complexity of flavor and a lighter roast is preferable; the maillard browning process as the color change occurs in the kiln will bring out the natural sweetness inherent in the bean and maximize the sugars imparted from the barrel.
While the alcohol from the barrel will be burned off in the heat of the roaster, the beans should retain a punchy spirit character and a strong heady aroma. When you open a bag of barrel aged coffee everyone around will know all about it!
The real key to any good cup of coffee comes in the final stages – the freshness and the grind, and for that part it’s really in the hands of the barista or home brewer. This is where the Taste profile of bourbon barrel aged coffee beans really comes through. The flavor will start to degrade surprisingly quickly, after a week or so for whole beans and maybe even less than an hour for beans that have been ground.
For that reason it’s always best to buy whole beans and grind them as near as possible to the brewing time – ideally just before. The effort of the growers halfway around the world, the years of skill of the distillers, the technical know-how of a coffee roaster all come down to those last few minutes.
Let’s find your new favorite bean!
There’s a barrel aged coffee for every occasion that can be brewed on the kit you’re happiest with – check out our brewing guides for some insight or have a look at some coffee trends for inspiration. Trust your palate, don’t be afraid to experiment and remember to stay curious!