Coffee review: Barrel Aged (Sidecar)

Last month I was flicking down through Facebook and saw something intriguing from neighboring roaster, Sidecar Coffee Roasters, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Jed, the roaster there, was talking about roasting up some green coffee that had been "aged" in a spent whiskey barrel from  Cedar Ridge, a nearby Iowa distillery. The results, he said, were "super smooth and super boozy."

I knew right then I had to get my hands on some. And today, my taste buds were rewarded, but more on that below.

Curious as to the process, I found a story online about barrel-aging (the article calls it "barrel-conditioning") green coffee in various types of liquor barrels/casks: whiskey, brandy, wine. And like all things in the coffee world, every single little thing has an impact on the flavor in your cup: Different kinds of liquor barrels with different kinds of coffee, different roast levels, etc. The results being produced by this novel approach were getting completely bizarre flavor notes names like "lollipops, jelly doughnuts or whiskey." WHAT?! My excitement only built from there.

Happily, Sidecar opened up online ordering for their barrel-conditioned San Pedro Guatemalan coffee, and I jumped on it immediately. It was roasted yesterday and showed up at my door today, so this is as fresh as it gets for mail order! Here's my review...

Funny, I was getting antsy too!

Since I'd been tipped off to the crazy flavor and aroma qualities of barrel-conditioning, I opened the bag and immediately stuck my nose in and took some whiffs. Oh my. This was not like anything I'd ever smelled in a coffee bag before. In fact, it didn't even smell like coffee; it had a stale or woody sweetness to the oder.

I chose to brew the first cup in the stovetop Moka Pot, since that's a method that produces the most aromatically pleasing cup of coffee. Using my hand-crank burr grinder, I ground it at my normal "pretty fine" level, for AeroPress, Moka Pot, or espresso brewing. When I took the top off of the grinder and stuck my nose in to sniff the grounds, I was nearly taken aback. Pow! It was like sticking your whole head inside a bottle of booze! The aroma was that strong. "Wow...this just keeps getting interesting," I thought. And it still didn't smell like coffee!

The Moka Pot is great because you can get a good whiff of the coffee as it's coming out of the little wand and filling up the top reservoir. The boozy smell had finally given way to something that smelled like coffee, though the casky/woody/boozy aroma was still very much present.

When it first came off the stove and into my cup, I gave it more sniff tests and took the first sip. In addition to the woody/boozy aromas that had been present throughout, there was a slightly candy-like sweetness to the flavor which, yes, I guess you could describe as "lollipops." (That still makes me giggle...) The overall mouth-feel of the coffee is smooth, and the strength of the flavors are experienced before and after you sip, not with the initial front-of-the-tongue flavor. And the aftertaste just keeps carrying on that "barrel-y sweetness." As the coffee cooled down in my cup - all the way down to just-above room temperature as I type this - the flavor holds through and remains pleasant.

All in all, this is the most interesting cup of coffee I've ever tasted. And that it came from a roaster just down the road, using a barrel from a distiller also just down the road, it makes for a great "roaster to cup" experience. Hats off to Jed at Sidecar! As I said in my last review, it may seem strange for me to send potential business somewhere else, but Jed is the real deal. Give Sidecar a try, and if he still has any Barrel-Aged left (as of now he does) give it a try. You'll never forget it!

[Puts down empty mug...]
Posted on February 10, 2015 .