During a particularly rough week, a package arrived on my doorstep like a little gift from the It’s-All-Going-To-Be-Okay Fairy. These are the times when I’m reminded that being an adult isn’t always a bad thing – there’s whiskey and coffee to be had, and sometimes they’ll show up together bringing sympathy and the assurance that “we’ve been through it too” in the form of a bag of whiskey-barrel aged coffee beans. Cooper’s, a new coffee company hailing from New England, had the fine idea to take coffee beans, still green and naive, and teach them a thing or two about life within the staves of a whiskey barrel. The result is a mature cup of coffee that turns a morning habit into a morning experience.
A coffee’s natural flavor depends on where the bean is grown and how it’s roasted. These beans are single origin from Lintong, Sumatra, and were selected by master roaster Jason Maranhao for their earthy and tropical notes and for how well they’ll complement the ghost of the whiskey’s flavors lingering in the emptied cask.
While flavored coffee can be achieved in many ways such as by adding syrups, chemicals, natural oils or even flavored starch, Cooper’s beans get their flavor by aging them in barrels that once held a stout mash whiskey called Uprising Single Malt. Crafted by Sons of Liberty Spirit Company from Rhode Island, it’s a 2014 silver-medal winner from the New York World Wine and Spirits Competition with a mash bill of 100% malted barley using darker malts like the kind used in stout beer. According to the website, the whiskey is double-distilled then aged in newly-charred American Oak Barrels and complemented with toasted French Oak. While I’ve yet to sample Uprising Single Malt — yes, it’s on my to-do list — the description of its flavor profile includes notes of mocha.
Once the whiskey is whisked away to fill bottles of Uprising, the empty barrel goes to work on Cooper’s beans for forty-five days. “After the beans are removed from the barrel they are roasted to order,” says Maranhao, with a roasting level of 3 out of 5 to bring forth the bean’s oils in just the right way.
I had a brew from these beans three times before I emptied the bag, the first time through a French press, as recommended on the label, and the latter two through a drip coffeemaker— and I admit the French press delivered the bolder, more nuanced cup.
Nose: First the bean: absolutely identical to those little foil-wrapped chocolate bottles filled with liquor. Now the grind: pineapple unleashed. So strong was it that I began to suspect this would deliver a ham-handed cup reminiscent of International Delight, that powdered coffee mix popular in the 80’s (I was delighted to be proven wrong).
Mouth: The feel of it is full-bodied, viscous. The taste is a much milder version of the smell (isn’t that always the way with coffee?), along with a richer arrival of green tobacco leaves drizzled with caramel. It doesn’t taste like whiskey, per se, and I’m happy to report that the whiskey’s taste notes complement the coffee beans without getting in the way— which to me is crucial in making flavored coffee work. It’s a cup of coffee that still tastes like a coffee. A damn good one.
While the coffee is impressive it’s also pricey, at $30 for 12 oz of beans, but considering the effort that goes into making them perhaps it’s no surprise. For those who’re serious about their coffee, it’s worth grabbing a bag to save for those mornings when you’re looking for a glimmer of sunshine between the clouds.