How to preserve the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

Esther Gibbs
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January 5, 2023
Preserving the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

A popular trend that has emerged within the specialty coffee sector in recent years is barrel-aged coffee. 

Essentially, this refers to green coffee that has been stored in wooden barrels that previously housed wine, whiskey, bourbon, or rum. 

In addition to giving rise to new and interesting flavours, the process is both affordable to many roasters and environmentally friendly.

That said, one of the most important aspects of offering barrel-aged coffee is preserving the unique aromas created by the process. 

To learn more about barrel-aged coffees and how roasters can preserve their unique characteristics, I spoke with the founder of Iron & Fire Specialty Coffee Roasters, Kevin Burrows.

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An image of a barista brewing barrel-aged coffee in a Chemex in an article about preserving the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

What is barrel-aged coffee?

Barrel-aged coffee refers to the process of ageing green beans in a barrel that was previously used to house alcohol before roasting. 

This process gives the coffee beans a range of complex flavour characteristics that often include a sweet aroma of wood and whiskey, rum, or bourbon – depending on the spirit used. 

That said, the result largely depends on the coffee variety used, and the length of time the beans are left to age. 

For instance, if the beans are not aged enough, the flavours of the barrel will not successfully transfer into the coffee. If left for too long, the coffee may develop an intense flavour that drowns out its more subtle notes. 

Iron & Fire Coffee Roasters offer a barrel-aged whiskey-infused coffee called ‘On The Rocks’, which recently won the brand a Great Taste Award

“When people try it, they tend to like the profile, as it’s not too overpowering. The complexity of the whiskey adds to it. You can definitely appeal to a new part of the market,” Kevin says. 

“It’s usually bought as a present,” says Kevin, who spent 2 years experimenting with combining standard air roasting with halogen energy. “At Iron & Fire, we sell our whiskey-infused coffee in our Christmas pack.”

The brand offers two Christmas selections, and both feature a 220g bag of its whiskey-infused coffee offering. Packaged in a black stand-up coffee pouch made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), the brand’s iconic logo sits above an intricate illustration of a tumbler of whiskey and a single brown feather.

Some advice he offers consumers is to brew it in a cafetière, as the flavours tend to come through better. “Even more so if you add milk,” Kevin says. “It becomes an Irish coffee flavour, especially with the sweetness of the Colombian coffee.”

During their experimentation phase, Kevin says the team tried barrel-ageing a few Brazilian and Ethiopian coffees. “The whiskey didn’t compliment the taste profile of those coffees the way it did with the Colombian,” he says. 

“I always go back to Colombians because you’ve got a good base to work with. They are stable, with a good tolerance for roasting styles.” Kevin explains. 

An image of Iron & Fire Specialty Coffee Roasters barrel-aged whiskey infused coffee in a black stand up coffee pouch, LDPE coffee pouch in an article about preserving the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

Iron & Fire’s barrel-aged whiskey-infused coffee

“I’m usually dead against flavouring coffees,” Kevin says. “If you want other flavours in a coffee, stick them in after you’ve made it – a vanilla shot, or something. You don’t need to add anything to the beans.

“But with whisky, it’s amazing!” Kevin explains the team leaves green coffee standing in wooden barrels that were previously used to store whiskey. 

Every two days, the barrels are “rolled” to ensure each bean has an opportunity to sit in contact with the wall of the barrel. Kevin says this standing and rolling process continues for about two months. 

“The barrels have travelled around locations such as Spain or America, and they can be up to 120 years old,” he adds. “The 12-year single malt whiskey barrels we use are just right for infusing coffee for about two months, and we can use them twice.” 

Kevin explains they tend to leave the second infusion for a bit longer as there is less essence from the volatiles in the barrel. 

However, left too long and the beans may start to degrade and oxidise. “The beans can take on moisture and the taints come through, so the flavour profile won’t be as good,” Kevin says. 

An image of multiple custom-print stand up coffee pouches LDPE coffee bags of barrel-aged coffee in an article about preserving the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

What to consider when offering barrel-aged coffee

One of the first things to consider when offering barrel-aged whiskey-infused coffee is the quality of the whiskey. 

“The quality of the whisky will affect the product, the same as cooking with good wine! You can tell the difference in the whiskey,” Kevin says. 

He adds that Iron & Fire has tried several other barrels, including bourbon, but hasn’t found a match as effective as the single malt whiskey. 

“If my team is grinding our whiskey-infused coffee, I can smell it about five miles away,” Kevin laughs. “It’s just such an amazing smell of whiskey and coffee combined!”

In order to preserve this unique aroma, roasters should invest in high-quality coffee packaging that will prevent any external odours from entering and obscuring the aroma profile.

Roasters can choose to use sustainable packaging materials that offer high barrier protection, such as rice paper or kraft paper coffee bags with an environmentally friendly polylactic acid (PLA) lining.

Alternatively, they can use multilayer coffee packaging made from LDPE, which is flexible, durable, lightweight, and can be easily reused and recycled.

More so, the production of LDPE coffee bags uses less energy and raw materials, making it easier for coffee consumers to dispose of them correctly. This also ties in with the eco-friendliness of barrel-aged coffees. 

LDPE offers a good balance for roasters looking to move towards more sustainable practices without the need to revamp their business models. It has similar characteristics to traditional plastics, including a long shelf life. 

To further preserve the aromas of whiskey-infused coffee, roasters can fit their coffee bags with degassing valves to prevent oxidation. Oxidation occurs when coffee comes into contact with oxygen, causing it to become stale and flat.

Resealable zippers can also be used to help consumers keep the coffee fresh while they consume it. 

An image of a customised coffee tin of barrel-aged coffee in an article about preserving the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

MTPak Coffee offers roasters and coffee shops a range of coffee packaging options made from renewable resources. 

Our line of coffee boxes is made using 100% recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made from kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining

More so, both our sustainable coffee bags and coffee mailer boxes can be fully customised to reflect your brand details about your coffee offerings. MTPak Coffee offers our clients a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time. 

We also offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

To learn more about customising sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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How to preserve the characteristics of barrel-aged coffee

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