There are many whisk(e)y derived products, particularly food products those which utilize the barrels, often from bourbon, as part of their production – from tabasco to wine. Recently, I received a sample from Cooper’s Cask (www.cooperscaskcoffee.com), a coffee company operating out of Rhode Island. The company sources green beans from Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia – a long established (exporting since 1711) coffee region known for coffees from the expensive, intriguing, and ethically questionable Kopi Luwok to pungent aged coffees from Java. Sumatra is the largest island in Indonesia and is known for earthy characteristics – chosen for this reason to complement flavours derived from the whisky casks.
The company spun out of the passion of Jason Maranhao and John Speights, and this particular product was inspired by some tea producers who were aging their product in wine casks. Their care for quality is quite evident in speaking with them, in the given information to their consumers like batch number and roast date (which I greatly appreciate as freshness is extremely vital to great coffee), and the fact that they only ship once a full batch has been ordered so everyone can get the freshest possible beans.
They source green beans, and age them in whiskey barrels for a period of 40-60 days, and then roast them after aging. Green beans have the capacity to retain flavors well on a level that is significantly longer than roasted beans, so aging them before roasting allows them to soak up flavor while not becoming stale. This particular coffee was aged in barrels from Uprising Single Malt,which is a single malt made from a stout beer mash at Sons of Liberty in Rhode Island. There are future releases which will be in different casks, including a bourbon and rum cask. To put this in the context of my other “whiskey coffee” experiences, this one is significantly different – the ones I have tried have been flavored after roasting or roasted before aging in a barrel, producing coffees I would not want to talk about.
I am no coffee expert, but I am not a novice either – I come from a family that has turned our BBQ into an excellent coffee roaster and I also select and roast green beans at home as time allows. This coffee is from batch 1, roasted on March 18 of this year – and shortly after reviewed by me, with the help of some coffee loving friends (all good things are worth sharing). The roast is medium (see above), which the folks over at Cooper’s Cask say is best for balance and the integration of the whiskey and coffee flavors. They recommend brewing in a French Press – this review is based on a number of French Press tastings and one Pour-Over Tasting. I tasted the coffee black.
Nose (whole beans): I have never smelled coffee like this before – it has a bright and vivid tropical fruit characteristic much like papaya and dried mango, but it is creamy as well, somewhat like guanabana (soursop). I wasn’t even exposed to this fruit until I was trying to pin down some of these flavors with the help of some friends. I had another friend say she may not even know this was coffee if she smelled it blind – because of the strong fruity characteristic. It also smells sweet, with distinct sesame oil and earthy characteristics. In terms of whiskey, the only note I get which reminds me of whiskey is a light oily characteristic reminiscent of some whiskies.
Nose (after grind): After grinding, oaky and earthy characteristics really come out. The fruit is still there, but now doesn’t dominate as much. There is milk chocolate which plays off and balances the coffee bitterness as well, and some nuttiness comes into play. This now has much more of a coffee profile than the straight beans.
Nose (brewed coffee): Buttery, with the papaya and mango, honeydew melon, wet wood, wet earth, and some nutty characteristics. Interesting liqueur like aromas of amaretto and amarula play in as well.
Taste: In many ways, it follows the nose – tropical fruit, earthy, sesame, and a light vegetal note reminiscent of the rich flavor of green coffee beans. Medium level acidity. The finish is remarkable – after the movement of flavor in your mouth, buttery, oaky, and vanilla notes come through very reminiscent of whiskey. This is the only place on the palate where I really notice the whiskey, and it fits the rest of the profile very nicely. The flavor also lasts a long time, with light vanilla, papaya, and mango.
Conclusion: A complex, unique, and engaging coffee highly enjoyable by mind and palate. I have never had a coffee like this before – either in the vivid tropical fruit, which almost makes this coffee liqueur-like (though it’s not sweet, of course), or in the finish tacked on the end. This isn’t really a coffee I would drink on a regular morning – it’s much more an after dinner sipper, or a mid-morning post-brunch drink, where you can relax, appreciate, and be intrigued.
I preferred this coffee in the French Press, as it did better justice to both the earthy and fruity flavors. In my last tasting, for the sake of curiosity, I also added cream – it makes the drink much more liqueur-like with the cream and fruit coming together nicely – but the complexity is almost completely lost and this coffee is wonderful on its own. It also pairs nicely with light desserts and nuts.