What Is A Barrel Aged Coffee – And How To Make It (A Brief Guide)

Like wine, whiskey, and other spirits, coffee is joining the aging process.

But the process looks and tastes a little different from other aged specialty drinks.

So, what is a barrel aged coffee?

Below, I will give you a complete rundown of barrel aged coffee, what it tastes like, how to use it, and even a couple of recipes for your next coffee cocktail.

Let’s get to it!

What is a Barrel Aged Coffee?

barrel in the coffee beans

You might be familiar with other barrel aged drinks. Bourbon, wine, and beer both have barrel aged specialty options out there.

But what about coffee?

Yes, coffee can be barrel aged to give your morning cup unique flavors.

Despite what it might sound like, your coffee isn’t poured into an old whiskey barrel for a few weeks before you drink it.

Instead, the green coffee beans are allowed to sit in old barrels of whiskey or other spirits for a few days to a few weeks. After that, the beans are sent to the roaster where they are roasted normally.

Only then are the beans packaged and available to you.

The result is a delicious and unique flavor profile. The process gives you the coffee flavor you are used to with the addition of hints of whatever barrel your beans were aged in.

Will your coffee suddenly taste like whiskey? No.

Think of it like adding cinnamon to a hot chocolate. The cinnamon doesn’t take over the chocolate flavor but instead adds a little taste of cinnamon underneath the hot chocolate.

That’s all that barrel aged coffee does. But it’s phenomenal.

History

Aging specialty drinks have been around for centuries. After all, wine increases in value when aged and the same is true for most liquors.

In fact, coffee is rather an anomaly in the specialty drink world because of the preference for freshness.

A lot of people won’t even consider a bag of beans that’s more than a month old.

But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the early days of coffee, it was impossible to get fresh coffee simply because of the distance between coffee farms and the consumers.

The sea air and the time it took to travel around Africa before entering Europe altered the taste of the coffee. It was an inadvertent aging process.

Eventually, the coffee world developed a preference for the freshest coffee possible. That’s because the travel times dropped.

Recently, intentionally aged coffee has been on the rise. Specifically, barrel aged coffee.

The trend hasn’t taken off quite yet. It still occupies a niche market within the coffee world. But there are a number of great barrel aged coffees out there.

Taste

barista pouring coffee in a glass

I had the privilege of trying a number of barrel aged coffee when I worked in the industry. And believe me when I say that barrel aged coffee is like no other coffee you’ve ever tried.

In my opinion, barrel aged coffee works best as a cold brew. You get more of the aromatics and intensity left over from the barrels.

For the same reason that the liquor in hot cocktails isn’t as strong, barrel aged coffee loses some of its taste and intensity.

That’s because when you heat up barrel aged coffee, the last bits of the liquor flavor evaporate. That said, you’ll get a good noseful of the barrel, but it won’t make it into your mouth.

That being said, barrel aged coffee doesn’t lose all of its amazing flavors when brewed hot.

Expect your drink to still be coffee-forward. It will still have the same properties and profile as non-barrel aged coffees. But there will be a hint of whatever type of retired barrel your coffee was aged in.

The taste really hits on the finish and aftertaste of your sips. The pleasant sting and aroma of whiskey stick around in your mouth after your swallow. And in my experience pairs really nicely with the coffee flavors up front.

In a nutshell, barrel aged coffee still tastes like coffee. But the barrel-aging process adds a layer of liquor flavor that augments the coffee taste.

Brewing

There’s a lot you can do with barrel aged coffee.

Any drink you make with regular coffee beans can be made with barrel aged coffee.

From lattes to espresso, using barrel aged coffee will add depth to the drink’s flavor.

Cocktails have become one of the most popular ways to use barrel aged coffee. Either cold or hot, using barrel aged beans in Irish coffee can be a great way to blend those flavors together. 

Keep reading below for a couple of Irish coffee recipes using barrel aged coffee.

While there is no alcohol in barrel aged coffee, the aroma and taste left over can add a cozy and comforting feeling to your cup on a cold winter morning.

The same is true of a barrel aged cold brew on a warm summer morning.

How is a Barrel Aged Coffee Made?

The barrel-aging process is actually pretty simple. It only adds one extra step for the roaster.

Once the coffee cherries have been dried and the beans themselves removed, the roaster is left with green beans.

Usually, those beans are put straight into the roaster and roasted to either light, medium, or dark.

These are the coffee beans you will be used to seeing when opening a new bag of coffee. Their roast level can be anywhere from light to dark roast.

The barrel-aging process jumps in after the beans are pulled from the cherries but before they are sent into the roaster.

In the barrel-aging process, those green beans are put into retired liquor barrels. Usually, a bourbon barrel is a preferred type for aging coffee. But really any barrel, such as a rum barrel or wine barrel, can be used.

After the beans are put into the barrels, they are allowed to just sit there for anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.

It is only after that interval that the beans are taken out of the barrels and sent to the roaster.

The process looks the same as with regular coffee beans after that. The aged beans are roasted to a light, medium, or dark profile and look the same as non-aged coffee.

That being said, as soon as you open a bag of aged coffee, you will be hit with a strong smell of coffee and liquor. And believe me, it smells amazing.

Barrel Aged Irish Coffee Recipe

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that barrel aged coffee works best as a cold brew. So here’s a recipe I really enjoy that uses barrel aged coffee as a base for this summer brunch cocktail:

  • Start by making a batch of barrel aged cold brew espresso
  • Next, add about 3 oz of your barrel aged cold brew espresso to a glass with some ice
  • Add 1.5 oz of your favorite Irish whiskey
  • Finish it off with 3.5 oz of heavy cream
  • Enjoy!

This great coffee drink works really well as a summer brunch cocktail. It allows all the flavors of the coffee and whiskey to come through while maintaining a really pleasant aroma from the barrel aged coffee.

You can play around with this recipe by adding Bailey’s Irish Cream instead of straight whiskey and heavy cream.

Or you can ditch the alcohol altogether by adding 4 oz of barrel aged cold brew espresso and 4 oz of heavy cream.

Alternatively, you can make this into a hot drink by brewing up about 6 oz of barrel aged coffee and adding 2 oz of whiskey. Add in a spoonful of brown sugar, mix, and enjoy.

FAQ

There are a few more questions I want to address. These are quick answers that don’t need much explanation.

Does whiskey barrel aged coffee have alcohol?

No. The residual alcohol in the barrels does seep into the coffee bean. However, that small amount of alcohol evaporates during the roasting process.

That evaporation leaves only the unique and delicious taste of the barrel-aging process and no alcohol.

What is aged coffee in Starbucks?

Starbucks has dabbled with barrel aged coffees in the past. Specifically, they released a limited whiskey barrel aged coffee in 2017.

Right now, it is unclear if or when Starbucks will bring barrel aged coffee back.

What is whiskey barrel aged cold brew?

It is a cold brew made from whiskey barrel aged coffee beans.

In my opinion, it is one of the best ways to enjoy whiskey barrel aged coffee.

Conclusion

Barrel aged coffees are great additions to the specialty coffee world. They give each brew a unique flavor profile and depth to the cup.

They are made by putting green coffee beans into old liquor barrels and allowed to sit for days or weeks.

After that, they are roasted and packaged normally.

Then you can use barrel aged coffee in any kind of drink to add a nice liquor aftertaste without the alcohol.

My favorite has always been a barrel aged cold brew served over ice.

Happy sipping!

Interested in the roasting process? Check out our article on the different types of coffee roasts!

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Craig Carey
Craig spent a year as a barista in Denver's specialty coffee world. He spends his days rock climbing, cycling, drinking espresso, and hanging around the Rocky Mountains. He still lives in Colorado.