One of the biggest challenges in roasting coffee is the raw beans absorbing whatever odors are around. There are two ways to deal with this: Roast the beans quickly, or use those odors to your advantage. Many contemporary coffee roasters are doing the latter, as they age raw beans in wine, whiskey or rum barrels.
Wine Barrel Coffee
These beans have a bold, distinct flavor that can be an acquired taste. The Mister G Coffee Company uses Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, which “not only impart a fruity snap and slight sweetness to the coffee, but also a depth and richness,” says Douglas Garner, the company’s roaster. Merlot fans will find a milder, rounder brew in Merlot-inflected beans from Orange County Coffee Roasters.
Bourbon Barrel Coffee
Caramel, vanilla and wood are among the warm flavor notes that make Bourbon so appealing, and they’re also a perfect complement to coffee beans. In Lexington, Kentucky, Common Grounds Coffee House sources its barrels from nearby Willett and often ages beans to order.
Rum Barrel Coffee
Rhode Island-based Cooper’s Cask Coffee sources rum barrels from nearby Thomas Tew Distillery for molasses- and toffee-inflected beans with hints of raisin and warming spices. Owners Jason Maranhao and John Speights recommend brewing espresso from the beans, rather than drip coffee, for a more intense hit of coffee-rum flavor.
Rye Barrel Coffee
Garner of Mister G Coffee uses barrels from Pennsylvania-based Dad’s Hat distillery, and his rye-aged beans are roasted slightly darker than his company’s Cabernet beans. Garner cites Wine Enthusiast’s review of the straight-rye whiskey’s “combination of sweetness, spark and depth” as tasty notes in the coffee. He says it also has “an aroma that almost brings flowers, fruit and a hint of char.”
Beer Barrel Coffee
Chicago-based Dark Matter Coffee partners with local brewers like Pipeworks and Devil’s Trumpet for limited-edition runs of coffee aged in beer barrels. While the beans will differ depending on the barrel, look for chocolaty notes from porter barrels, berry notes from sours and goses, and herbal flavors from IPAs, all sporting hints of yeastiness.