Starbucks first barrel-aged coffee debuts at Seattle Roastery

The centuries-old craft of barrel aging has long been a source of culinary inspiration, influencing everything from sugars and chocolates to sauces and ciders, and now green coffee. The extraction of distinct flavours imparted by the barrel enhance the integrity of the product it meets.

“Exploring the potential of coffee and marrying nontraditional experiences and techniques together is something we’re experimenting with daily,” says Duane Thompson from Starbucks beverage R&D team. “We start with the bean first and go from there.” The result, Starbucks Reserve Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi, is now available for a limited time exclusively at the Seattle Roastery.

The Roastery’s first barrel-aged coffee starts with a small 800-pound batch of green (unroasted) Starbucks Reserve Sulawesi beans hand-scooped into freshly emptied American Oak-Aged Whiskey Barrels from Woodinville Whiskey, Colorado. Over several weeks, the beans absorb the whiskey flavour. They are hand-rotated frequently to ensure all the coffee comes into contact with the oak barrel. This process is different than the typical aging process Starbucks uses for its Aged Sumatra, which rests in burlap bags.

After the beans age, they are roasted. Although the intense heat of the roasting process burns off the alcohol, the aroma and flavour of the whiskey’s identity still come through. “The process takes time, care and patience, ensuring we deliver a distinct experience that stays true to the specialness of the coffee while imparting the complementary, distinguished flavour of the oak-aged barrel,” Thompson said. “You get those earthy notes mingling with the oak to create a cup that’s unlike any other.”

The Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi is featured in two new specialty beverages and as hand-scooped whole bean coffee to take home. One beverage starts with the slow-steeped Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi that’s sweetened with vanilla barrel-syrup in a carafe. It’s served as a sidecar next to a glass with a large cube of ice.

“The cold-brewing allows for more caramel flavour to come through from the barrel, along with the vanilla, for a beautifully rounded beverage,” Thompson said. “You get the building of the flavours at every single level. It is complex, but not complicated.”

The Roastery is also offering a hot Barrel Aged Con Crema, a hot pour-over of Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi mixed with barrel-aged vanilla syrup, topped with cascara sugar cold-foam topping.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in coffee,” said Thompson. “This meticulous process has been rewarding and hopefully it’s an unforgettable taste in the cup for our customers.”

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