It seems like a day doesn’t go by without another coffee trend being concocted by a bearded barista in some high street coffee shop.
Sure, some ideas are pretty innovative and likey stay, such as cold brew, nitro coffee, and flipping your Aeropress the wrong way round. In contrast, others seem to disappear just as quickly as they arrived, like the unicorn frappuccino (rolling eyes).
One of the latest trends to be sweeping through the world of coffee is barrel-aged coffee, and frankly, I think it’s here to stay.
This coffee aging technique is drumming up many loyal followers in the flavored coffee market that has otherwise been lacking in innovation. Many baristas rely on sugary artificial flavors or coffee syrups to add flavor to their coffees.
The natural processing of aging coffee using barrels opens the door to many possibilities for the flavored coffee niche. It can even crossover to mixologists in bars looking to explore new depths of distilled flavors in their cocktails.
Let’s take a closer look at this new coffee processing technique.
The Barrel Coffee Aging Process
The name’s kind of a giveaway, and as you’ve probably already guessed, it involves adding coffee to barrels, but there’s a bit more skill to it than that.
The process may sound simple, but it requires the correct type of barrels and a bit of time and patience to ensure the flavors develop as expected.
For the best tasting barrel-aged coffee, retired liquor barrels are procured from distilleries. Barrels can be expensive, ranging from $150 to $300 on average, and the quality of each barrel is hard to control.
Old oak barrels used for many years to age alcohol such as whisky and rum have a massive amount of natural flavors that has seeped into the wood over time. When these barrels are used to age coffee beans, this flavor is then absorbed by the coffee.
But, it’s not just any type of coffee. Green coffee beans are used which have not yet been roasted. At this stage in the coffee beans life, they absorb a lot of the flavors around them, which then carries through the roasting process and finally your cup.
Once added to the barrels, they are left for around 2 to 3 weeks. However, some roasters like to age the coffee for longer in the barrels, producing pronounced and almost overwhelming flavors.
Each batch of aged coffee is seldom the same, and the flavors can vary as each barrel has its unique flavor profile depending on the age and the amount of absorbed flavors the barrel still holds. Each batch of coffee produced will absorb a little more aroma and flavor from the wooden lining.
After some time, there is little flavor left in the wood barrel for the coffee bean to absorb; the flavoring becomes weaker the more times the barrel is used.
Which Types of Coffee Age Well In Barrels?
Not all coffee beans are good candidates for aging in barrels, and most roasters prefer to source coffee that’s low in acidity and high in body, but occasionally there are a few exceptions to this rule.
Low acid coffee from Indonesia, like the semi-dry processed Sumatra coffee beans, are excellent candidates for the barrel maturing process.
As the Sumatra coffee ages inside the barrels, it can take on a complex, rich, spicy, and peppery flavor.
Latin American coffees also do very well with barrel aging, and the bright acidic wet-processed coffees tend to age and mellow with time.
But let’s not forget that the type of barrel used will also enhance the flavor of the coffee added.
For example, Barrels previously used to age whisky in their past life will generally give your coffee a nuttier, earthy flavor profile.
A Bourbon barrel will give the coffee a slightly sweeter and more vanilla edge. Rum wooden kegs will pass on sweet and spicy notes over to the coffee and leave a hint of caramel!
And old wine casks will give your coffee the same earthy flavors of whichever type of red wine was aged.
Best Way To Brew Using Barrel Aged Coffee Beans
There is no wrong or right way to brew using barrel-aged coffee beans, and you can treat them the same way you would any other type of coffee.
However, using barrel-aged coffee beans in cold brew is the best way to bring out all of the flavors the coffee has accumulated and absorbed as it aged.
If you’re adamant that you want to brew hot coffee, I recommend using the AeroPress with the Prismo attachment and following their 50ml recipe for a rich, syrupy, full-flavored extraction.
Is There Alcohol In Barrel-Aged Coffee?
If you’re looking to get drunk from your morning cuppa of joe, you’re going to be disappointed.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but barrel-aged coffee doesn’t contain alcohol. There might be trace amounts, but nothing that’s going to give you any sort of buzz or make you run to the nearest karaoke bar to blast out some Elvis classics.
Leave it to the mixologist to add a bit of alcohol to barrel-aged coffee with an infused cocktail if that’s what you’re looking for; I’ve heard on the grapevine that barrel-aged coffee cocktail infusions work well.
The aging process actually saturates the coffee with the flavors and taste from the alcohol initially stored inside the barrels. The taste profile will be completely unique from other flavored coffee, and it’s entirely natural too!
How About Whiskey-Aged Coffee?
You might have come across whiskey-aged coffee marketed by some big names in the whiskey and bourbon business. They claim on the packaging that the coffee has been infused with their brand of bourbon.
However, in most cases, the flavors they talk about tend to come from the actual barrel that previously stored their whiskey or bourbon brand.
It’s the same barrel aging process as highlighted above that most roasters use – the brand name simply adds to the marketing appeal.
What’s Our Take On This New Coffee Trend?
Many coffee fads come and go, and it’s hard to keep up with the latest coffee buzzword. But, we believe that barrel-aged coffee is one of those trends that will stick around for the foreseeable future.
As we’ve mentioned in this post, there is a need in the coffee space for a product such as this, and you can only imagine the menu at your local coffee shop in a few years once this coffee aging process has matured even more.
Say goodbye to the high fructose sugary flavoring syrups and hello to naturally flavored coffee that has been slowly aged in oak barrels. Yum.
We recommend that you give this new type of alcohol-flavored coffee a try, if only once.
There are many different varieties to taste, and you can start by trying the Starbucks whiskey barrel-aged coffee, which should be pretty easy to find. Then move on and purchase some Kentucky bourbon or pinot noir flavored whole coffee beans from your local roaster.
Whether you enjoy coffee and the occasional whiskey and you want to pair the two together, or you’re simply curious about this new coffee trend, we think that barrel-aged coffee should be on everyone’s list.