Proving once again that all the best ideas are born over alcohol, Colorado Coffee Merchants just released a Whiskey Barrel Espresso inspired by a whiskey tasting that owner Eric Umenhofer attended.
"They talked about how some whiskey producers will use old wine barrels to extract more flavor, and it made me wonder if I could extract flavor from used whiskey barrels for our coffee," explains Umenhofer.
He and his roaster at the Fillmore Avenue outfit approached Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey in Denver and got onto a wait list for a barrel. (They're in demand among microbrewers, and some other people.) After scoring one, they loaded it with whole roasted espresso beans and turned it for a few days, allowing the beans to pull in the remaining moisture from the wood. That added "aroma to the espresso to create companions of brilliant essence and vibrant flavors," as Umenhofer wrote in a tasting release.
Once removed, ground and brewed ... "It's remarkable," Umenhofer says. "You get this airy whiskey feel on the back of your palate, like when you take a drink of potent liquor. It's got an amazing aroma, a little caramel. It's a lot richer — it's fun."
As far as Umenhofer knows, his outfit is the first to employ whiskey barrels in coffee making.
The first batch is selling at $22.50 per pound, which factors in the cost and transport of the barrel, which Umenhofer says he'll sell to Denver's Great Divide Brewing when he's done with it. As with a tea bag, he doesn't want to lose potency by using a barrel more than once or twice; but the beer brewers actually may benefit from having the coffee's presence on top of the whiskey's.
Due to limited barrel availability, Umenhofer isn't sure when and how often he'll concoct this special bean and brew in the future. But he's resolved to keep working on it. Just think of the potential for this in Irish bars ...