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The Bowtie Reserve: My barrel-aged coffee adventure.

I apologize for not making any sort of entries in such a long time, thankfully due to being busy roasting coffee.

Pictured above is the start of my newest project known as the Bowtie Reserve. To summarize, it's coffee aged in a bourbon barrel before being roasted.

It all started Christmas of 2022 when my wife bought me a really cool pack of "Cooper Coffee" which was coffee that had been aged in various whiskey barrels, in this case there was bourbon, rum, whiskey and rye. All were delicious and interesting, interesting enough to get me thinking, "I wonder if I could pull that off?"

First, I needed to get my hands on a bourbon barrel. This seemed like a simple task considering the Pawling farmers market always had a local distillery booth each Saturday, someone was bound to have extra barrels lying around. Well, it turns out I'm not the only one who thought that because everyone I asked either didn't have any available, all extras were spoken for by other buyers or the barrels were hundreds of dollars. The other issue was the size of the barrel. My shop isn't very large, which leaves me little room for anything I don't absolutely need. Yeah, a giant whiskey barrel wouldn't necessarily fit anywhere. So I decided to buy a hobby barrel on Amazon. I found a 3 liter pre-charred oak barrel for a very reasonable price.

Now that I had my barrel, I had to learn all about barrel aging in general. It turns out barrels require curing for a full week before you can use them. You do this by filling it with hot tap water and letting it soak for a week. It'll leak around the spigot at first, but it should stop after a day or so. Once it was ready, I bought a large bottle of the cheapest bourbon I could find and filled the barrel with it. I turned it slightly each day to ensure the bourbon was soaking into the wood properly. I let it age for an entire month before adding the beans.

I added my first batch of beans near the end of September after dumping the bourbon back into the bottle for future aging. For aging the beans, I was torn between aging the beans roasted or unroasted. Roasting them first would've hypothethically allowed for a quicker flavor transfer, which would've resulted in more efficient production. However, I was concerned that the flavor profile would've been too alcoholic, like taking a shot of whiskey with each sip. Plus all of the forums on barrel-aged coffee showed them aging first, then roasting. So, I had my answer.

As for which beans to use, I was thinking about using my Honduras San Vicente due to its natural fruitiness. The beans are large, which made them difficult to get in and out of the barrel. I let them sit in the barrel for a full week.

Pictured above is what I was greeted with after removing the beans from the barrel. The picture isn't the best quality, but the beans were bloated and pale with some beans being darker from the char of the barrel. I intentionally roasted them last for the day in case the bourbon flavor seeped into the metal of the drum. Interestingly enough, it roaasted much differently, actually taking much longer for the same roast level for some reason. My hypothesis is the moisture content in the bean from the residual alcohol.

The result? Nothing short of incredible!

My first cup of this gave me more than a smooth bourbon essence, it also gave me the rich oak flavor from the barrel and nice notes of chocolate. Interestingly enough, I didn't notice anything at all from the bean itself, only the barrel. It was still a lovely cup of coffee, just not worth the extra money and effort from the Honduras.

So I pondered which bean would be better and decided to try my Brazilian Cerrado, which tends to have chocolate and almond notes to it at a medium to medium-dark range. Plus, the beans themselves are smaller, thus easier to get in and out of the barrel.

The result Mark II? Even better!

Much to my surprise, the Brazilian not only matched, but lent even nicer profiles to the bourbon barrel than I imagined! At a medium-dark it's smooth and chocolatey and at a medium it's a little more oakey. I don't plan on taking it to a dark roast as the char from the barrel gives it those toasty notes.

As it is right now, I'm only able to produce 1 pound a week, which means I'm only selling it as a 4 oz pack. 4oz packs are available for $10, roasting is done on Tuesdays each week.

This has been so well-received that I have recently purchased a new barrel for the purpose of a rum-aged coffee. As long as everything goes according to plan, I'll have that available mid-January.

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