Last week we tapped a very special beer at the Lomaland Fermentorium that has been many months in the making: Black House with bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans. I’m 100% confident that we are the first brewery to make such a beer, so we’ve understandably heard some requests to explain how we made it.
Here’s the basic premise: green (unroasted) coffee beans are extremely porous, and consequently, pick up aromas and flavors from their environment easily. Quality-focused coffee importers and roasters are hyper-sensitive to this issue, and go to great lengths to ensure that their green beans are not exposed to undesirable aromas during shipping and storage.
But what if you WANTED to add aroma and flavor to green beans? Well, you could, just by putting the beans in an environment where those aromas are prevalent and letting them sit there.
As far as I can tell, the first coffee roaster to experiment with barrel-aging green beans was Ceremony Coffee out of Maryland. While I was sourcing equipment for our in-house coffee roasting operation, I inadvertently stumbled upon their barrel-aged coffee and quickly ordered some. The coffee blew me away, and I knew immediately that a major component of our in-house roasting-for-beer operation would include barrel-aging green beans.
About 6 months ago, when our green coffee came in, I ran over to our friends at The Homebrewer and picked up a couple of dry 8 gallon former bourbon and rye barrels. We filled them with green beans and waited…and waited…and waited.
Roastface Killah Amy has been steadily dialing in the roast on these beans over the last few months, which is why we’ve been able to offer the odd cask with these beans here and there. But we felt like this most recent batch of beans was right in the sweet spot, so we decided to infuse two kegs of pre-coffee’d Black House with the bourbon barrel-aged beans (at the same coffee-to-beer ratio as normal Black House.)
The results are truly exciting. The aroma is huge, with major notes of bourbon, oak, and coffee leaping out of the glass. The flavor is a crazy mash up of the above flavors, plus chocolate, roast, and vanilla. It’s exactly the kind of super flavorful, boundary-pushing beer that got me into this whole starting-a-brewery thing to begin with.
In fact, I’m so pleased with the way this experiment turned out, I’m adding a full-scale batch of Black House with bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans to our “to-do” list (no schedule yet). I’m also putting a lot more green coffee into barrels ASAP.
And if you haven’t tried the beer yet, I’d suggest heading over to the Lomaland Fermentorium ASAP; there’s not much left.