WTF is a bourbon barrel-aged coffee bean?

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.

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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.

Comments

Sergio D. Meza

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 06:48

Have yet to try the beer, But your concept was truly a great experiment that honestly don't understand why it has not been done more often. Can't wait to give it a shot.

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Denny

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 08:35

To confirm, no liquid went into the dry barrels with the green beans? If just beans, I assume they picked up any residual bourbon and rye flavors from sitting in the barrels for so long? Also, can you expand on the roasting process after they sat in the barrels? Thanks!!

Jacob McKean

Wed, 01/15/2014 - 10:06

Denny:

Correct, the barrels were dry. Green beans are sensitive to moisture and if they were to be soaked in bourbon, they would be unroastable. As I mentioned, green beans pick up aromas and flavors very easily (they are "volatile" in coffee parlance), and the dry barrel provides more than enough character after only a few months and noticeable character after only a few weeks.

I can't help you much with the roasting process, other than to say that Amy has been adjusting it continually over the last 6 months. She uses our very small commercial drum roaster, an Ambex YM-2.

Cheers & thanks,
Jacob McKean
Modern Times Beer

Vito

Tue, 09/29/2020 - 07:45

Does the flavor profile from the barrel aged green beans linger in your roaster ? Can it effect other roasts that are not barrel aged in that same roaster ? Thx

PJ

Wed, 01/15/2014 - 12:48

Super cool idea. Ostensibly, there's a whole world of opportunity for aging green coffee in different spirit barrels, or in the presence of "pleasant aromatics". Bourbon's the obvious choice to start with, for sure :-D.

Stefanie

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 05:09

Wow I have yet to try something like this! sounds like a cool concept. I would love to see what it tastes like, it is always fun and exciting to mix it up so I will have to remember this. This concept should really be experimented more often, why not right?
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Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:57

Great coffee, just need a supplier or source from which I can purchase!

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Sun, 08/16/2015 - 06:19

I want a coffee beer. How can I order some?

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Thu, 12/15/2016 - 07:10

Taking the ovvewier, this post hits the spot

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Fri, 12/16/2016 - 06:50

That hits the target dead certen! Great answer!

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Eduardo

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 07:22

After barrel-aged coffee ready, the beans are roasted, right? Ok.
Questions:
1) Will there be no losses of the aromatics obtained from the barrel by roasting process?
2) after barrel aged process of a batch, How many times I can use this barrel?

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Mon, 11/13/2017 - 06:47

Interesting process to craft coffee that eventually went into beer. It's something to think about for my homebrewing blog

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Jason

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 10:30

Does the bourbon coffee season the drum of the roaster? I don’t want to make all my coffee taste like bourbon.

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Tue, 12/18/2018 - 06:48

How many times can the same barrel be used ??? for different batches of beans?

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