Beer and barrels… what a team! We know aging beer in barrels makes it taste great, as you’ll find if you ever visit Fremont Brewing in Seattle, Washington or Jackie O’s Brewing in Athens, Ohio. And as it turns out, barrel aged coffee tastes great, too!
On the surface, barrel aging beans is simple. Get green — i.e., unroasted — coffee beans, put them in a barrel, and wait. Just as beer absorbs notes of bourbon, wood, vanilla, char, and pipe tobacco from the barrels, so too do the porous coffee beans.
Now, other than the bean and the roast profile, the lives lived by the barrel greatly affect the final coffee. For instance, if you age beans in an American bourbon barrel, you might get notes of walnuts and apricots. If you use a rum barrel, you could get marshmallow and butterscotch. And if you use a barrel that held syrup, you’ll get… well, syrup!
This principle was on full display with the most recent batch of Bean Culture Barrel Aged Beans, which aged for two months inside barrels that once held Jackie O’s Oil of Aphrodite stout.
Bean Culture Barrel Aged Coffee Beans
At Bean Culture, we teamed up with some of our favorite smiths of suds for our Brewer Series of barrel-aged coffee beans. Now, these aren’t just beans aged in bourbon barrels. These are beans aged in bourbon barrels that became stout barrels.
Specifically, for this batch, we got barrels from our friends at Jackie O’s Brewing in Athens, Ohio. Never heard of Jackie O’s? Well, of all the breweries in the Midwest that barrel-age their beers, perhaps the most renowned is — you guessed it — Jackie O’s. One of their best beers is Oil of Aphrodite, an American double stout brewed with locally harvested black walnuts and aged in bourbon barrels for 8 to 12 months.
And that’s what we used to age our beans.
Now, when you age green coffee beans, you need to leave them in the barrel long enough for them to absorb flavor and aroma, but not so long that they get wet and musty. For this batch, we spent five weeks aging green coffee beans from Huehuetenango, Guatemala, in the bourbon barrels that previously held Oil of Aphrodite. The beans were sourced, stored, and roasted by De Fer Coffee and Tea in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Testing Bean Culture Barrel Aged Coffee Beans
I knew coffee could be rich and complex but holy jeez this stuff came right out and bonked me on the head. Just standing near the bag brought on flashbacks of distillery tours. The coffee smelled rich and sweet, almost like a black, overripe banana coated in brown sugar or molasses. A lot like the Bananas Foster at Brennan’s in New Orleans. When I opened the bag and really stuck my nose in there, I got huge notes of oak and bourbon with a chocolatey tobacco backdrop.
My golden ratio for brewing is 1 to 16, coffee to water. To grind this coffee, I set my Baratza Encore to twelve and sent fifteen grams through. On the other side of the burr, the coffee gets really boozy, like another hit of that dirty banana business from the beginning. Then I bloomed with thirty grams of water in my V60. As the grounds came to life, I got even more of the strong bourbon notes, as well as a hint of peach.
The remaining 210 grams of water went into the pour over, creating a thin but viscous column of coffee. For this single serving, the brew time clocked in at around two and a half minutes.
Once in beverage form, the coffee is as black as Oil of Aphrodite stout. It even looks thick and syrupy. However, it drinks like a medium roast. Straddling the line between delicate, tea-like characteristics and the dankest dark roast you can find, this bag is a true beauty, with a floral vanilla finish that carries a touch of re-lit stogie. These are flavor and aroma profiles you can only get one way: by barrel aging green coffee beans.
The Bottom Line On Bean Culture Barrel Aged Coffee Beans
Usually, I don’t dig the burnt, sometimes smoky flavor of barrel-aged coffee. It’s definitely an acquired taste. But because the texture was so unexpected, and because the sweet and strong flavors are well balanced, I’d happily take this bag of beans for a daily drive. In fact, I did this week. I’ve been enjoying it as the second brew of the day.
If you’re a “coffee at night” person, I can’t think of a more perfect coffee than this one. Enjoy it in front of a fire as the weather turns colder, ideally with a newspaper and a cigar in hand.
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