What happens when you age coffee beans in used whiskey barrels? Very good things!
It is a question that was recently answered by a collaboration of two of my local drink producers, Sidecar Coffee Roasters and Cedar Ridge Distillery. Both of these businesses are masters in their respective beverages and, though each are just small Iowa companies, they are doing great things for the drink world.
It is a rare occurrence that Sidecar Project Blend is not in my grinder or that Cedar Ridge’s whiskies or brandies are not in my liquor cabinet. You can imagine my delight when I was stocking up on coffee and noticed a bag of beans adorned with the very familiar image of a liquor barrel. It was a pinch me moment and I had to snatch up that last bag.
The story goes (according to the label) that Sidecar decided to conduct an experiment; the roaster had one of those ‘what if’ moments that often lead to great things. What if you aged green coffee beans in barrels that began life full of bourbon and then housed apple brandy (remember, by law, bourbon barrels can only be used once)? It was, apparently, not an easy task and the label states the challenge involved. Once aged, Sidecar roasted their beans in their customary meticulous manner and released this limited edition bag.
How does it taste? That is the bigger question, right?
Upon cracking the seal, it was immediately apparent that this was like no other bean I’d encountered. The aroma is very sweet, had a distinct apple note, and, from my experience touring many distilleries, I knew right away that there was whiskey involved. The fragrance was so strong that it lingered in my moka pot even after a few rounds of ‘regular’ beans. This is in no way a bad problem to have because it is a lovely smell, though it did leave me craving another cup of Barrel-Aged despite the desire to ration the one bag I had.
Once ground and brewed, the espresso followed suit with the fragrance. It was sweet, fruity, and had perfect undertones of charred oak and it paired perfectly with a cinnamon syrup. Each cup reminded me of an intensified version of the floral Panamanian coffee I’d recently enjoyed, though there was always that apple brandy and whiskey background.
Would this be an everyday coffee if it were regularly available? Probably not for me because I do love a straight medium to dark roast espresso. This was a treat, similar to having the occasional pie for dessert. One grinder would produce a few double shots and then I would return to the everyday blends.
It was a refreshing change of routine and an experience in the blending of two adult beverages that was a very successful experiment.