What Is Barrel Aged Coffee? Should You Try It

what is barrel aged coffee?

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In today’s world, it seems like every day brings a new coffee trend. Many of these are dreamed up by creative baristas in busy coffee shops. Some other trends, like cold brew and nitro coffee, have become popular and look like they’re here to stay. Others, like the unicorn frappuccino, come and go quickly.

However, one of the newest trends to grab the attention of coffee enthusiasts everywhere is barrel-aged coffee.

Barrel-aged coffee is making a lot of people excited in the coffee world, where many are used to adding sweet, artificial flavors to their drinks. Barrel-aged coffee is different because it uses a natural process to add flavor to the coffee beans. This process also excites people who make mixed drinks at bars, as it gives them new flavors to explore in their cocktails.

✔ Quick Answer

Barrel aged coffee is a specialty coffee that has been stored in previously used liquor barrels, such as those for whiskey, wine, or rum, to absorb the flavors of the barrel’s contents. This process imparts unique, often complex flavor notes to the coffee beans, ranging from subtle hints of the original liquor to more pronounced, infused tastes.

Want to know more? Join me as we explore the world of barrel-aged coffee, and find out why so many people are falling in love with it!

The Barrel Coffee Aging Process

The name is 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 have 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 carry through the roasting process and finally your cup.

Once added to the barrels, they are left for around 2 to 3 weeks.

Mark Morphew adds coffee beans that have been aged

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. 

Key Aspects Of Barrel-Aged Coffee

Barrel Aged Coffee ProcessDetails
Aging of coffeeGreen coffee beans are placed in barrels that previously stored alcohol. The beans are aged for 2 to 3 weeks, or longer, absorbing the flavors from the barrel’s wood. 
FlavorsThe coffee beans take on a range of flavors and aromas from the alcohol and wood, leading to unique and natural tastes. Each batch can have different taste profiles, depending on the barrel used.
CostBarrels can be expensive, ranging from $150 to $300 on average.
Alcohol ContentBarrel-aged coffee contains no alcohol or only trace amounts, not enough to cause any intoxication.
BrandsVarious brands, including Starbucks, offer barrel-aged coffee products.
 Health ConcernsAligns with the increasing preference for natural and artisanal products.

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 taste of the coffee added.

For example, Whisky 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.

What Is The Best Way To Brew Barrel Aged Coffee?

There is no wrong or right way to brew using barrel-aged 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, using a medium roast, whiskey barrel whole bean, and following a 50ml recipe for a rich, syrupy, full-flavored extraction.

Fun Fact: Barrel-aged coffee beans are often roasted at a lower temperature compared to regular beans. This helps in preserving the unique flavors infused during the aging process, ensuring that every cup of coffee brewed offers a rich and complex taste.

Is There Alcohol In Barrel-Aged Coffee?

Curious if your barrel-aged coffee will give you a buzz beyond caffeine? You might want to revise your expectations. Despite the tempting aromas and flavors reminiscent of your favorite spirits, barrel-aged coffee is essentially non-alcoholic.

Any trace of alcohol found in these beans is negligible, nowhere near enough to elicit a buzz or spur an impromptu karaoke session.

Worry not. If it’s a boozy twist you seek for your coffee, mixologists have got you covered. They can craft exquisite cocktails using barrel-aged coffee, marrying the rich, intricate essence of the beans with your preferred liquor.

This sophisticated blend not only promises a unique tasting adventure but also ensures that the natural essence of the coffee remains uncompromised and shining through.

So, even without the alcohol, you’re guaranteed a one-of-a-kind coffee experience, brimming with depth and complexity that regular brews might lack.

How About Whiskey-Aged Coffee?

Have you stumbled upon whiskey-aged coffee promoted by renowned whiskey and bourbon companies? These products boast of being infused with their specific brand of bourbon right on the packaging.

Yet, the rich flavors they highlight usually originate from the actual barrel that once housed their whiskey or bourbon, rather than the beverage itself.

This method is similar to the general barrel-aging process detailed earlier. The addition of a recognized brand name mainly serves to enhance the product’s marketing allure, without necessarily altering the fundamental aging procedure that most roasters follow.

Personal Criticism Of Barrel-Aged Coffee

Barrel-aged coffee is undoubtedly a delightful new trend in the coffee world, offering unique and complex flavors.

However, it’s not without its potential drawbacks. Some coffee purists argue that the aging process can overshadow the natural bitterness and acidity of the coffee beans, making it more about the barrel’s previous contents than the coffee itself.

There might also be a consistency issue; as every barrel and batch can be different, finding a barrel-aged coffee that you enjoy could mean facing a different flavor profile the next time you purchase it.

In my own experience, I found a whiskey barrel-aged coffee that I fell in love with for its rich, smoky notes intertwined with a hint of sweetness. However, upon repurchasing, the next batch had a much stronger whiskey flavor that overpowered the coffee’s natural notes, turning my perfect morning brew into something less enjoyable.

Environmental Impact

The production of barrel-aged coffee might have an environmental impact worth considering.

Barrels that have outlived their use for aging alcohol are repurposed for coffee aging, which is a form of recycling. However, the process of shipping these heavy barrels worldwide adds to the carbon footprint of the coffee.

Furthermore, the use of wooden barrels contributes to deforestation, a significant environmental concern.

The Higher Cost

The cost of barrel-aged coffee is generally higher compared to standard coffee beans. This is due to the specialized aging process, the cost of the barrels, and often the manual labor involved in turning and checking the beans.

While many enthusiasts are willing to pay a premium for the unique flavors of barrel-aged coffee, cost can be a prohibiting factor for everyday coffee drinkers.

During a tasting session at a local roastery, I was swayed to purchase a small batch of rum barrel-aged coffee beans.

Although the cost was quite high, the unique, spicy, and sweet notes offered an exciting change to my coffee routine.

It’s a purchase I save for special occasions due to the cost.

A Few Health Considerations This Specialty Coffee

When considering the health aspects of barrel-aged coffee, it’s important to note that the coffee itself does not contain significant alcohol content, as mentioned in the article.

However, the scent from the previous alcohol can be strong, which may not be preferred by all individuals, especially those avoiding alcohol for personal or health reasons.

It’s also worth noting that the flavoring process does not add sugars or artificial flavors, which is a positive aspect for those watching their sugar intake or preferring natural flavors.

Our Perspective on This Emerging Coffee Trend

In the whirlwind world of coffee, trends swiftly arrive and depart, making it challenging to track the latest buzz.

Despite this, we are convinced that barrel-aged coffee is a trend with staying power. As discussed in this article, there’s an evident demand in the coffee industry for such innovative products, and we can only envision the exciting transformation of your local coffee shop’s menu as this coffee aging method continues to evolve.

If you enjoy sweet coffee, It might be time to bid farewell to those high fructose, overly sweet flavoring syrups and warmly welcome the naturally flavored coffee meticulously aged in oak barrels. Absolutely delicious.

We encourage you to explore this intriguing type of alcohol-infused coffee, at least once. An array of unique flavors await your taste buds.

Embark on this journey with the readily available Starbucks whiskey barrel-aged coffee, and then venture further by seeking out Kentucky bourbon barrel aged coffee or Pinot Noir-flavored whole coffee beans from local roasters.

Whether you’re a coffee enthusiast with a penchant for whiskey or merely intrigued by this burgeoning coffee trend, barrel-aged coffee undoubtedly deserves a spot on your must-try list. 


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