Disclaimer: This is a review at the request of Cooper’s Cask Coffee (CCC), for which I was provided a free sample. While grateful for the sample, I made it clear to Cooper’s before agreeing to the review that my review would be entirely impartial, and they agreed, with thanks.
Despite never soliciting whiskies for review, recently a reader of the blog (or passer-by, I can never be sure) asked if I would review their new product: coffee beans aged in whiskey casks. A neat idea, though I wasn’t entirely sure how beans sitting in an ex-whiskey barrel would impart anything more than scent. But a week later, here we are, and as a spoiler: there’s much more than whisky perfume going on here. For the record, I don’t know which sample this is, and which barrels these beans were aged in—just how I like it. Guessing the whiskey (even if I’m wrong) is part of the fun!
The sample comes with preparation notes, encouraging me to use a French press, something that I do not have. The rationale is that a paper filter may compromise the flavour. In agreement, I opted to brew a pot using my metal basket filter.
Opening the bag: Wow. They’ve got the whiskey nose hands-down. It’s a mix of the richness of Tennessee whiskey, and the brightness of Rye. Butterscotch all day on this one.
Munching on a bean: The roast is said to be medium, but I’m getting more light-medium. That said, my palate is biased towards dark roasts, so I may be under-estimating. Plenty of almonds and other nuts on the palate here, accompanied by that butterscotch taste. Delightful.
Post-Brew: The whiskey aroma fills the room, and the beans deliver on that promise, though the scent is distinctly Rye now. Not low-end Canadian Club, mind you, more like the 20yo Ninety DoR.
Coffee, Black: The nose is a little more subdued in the cup, but again, delivering a really clear Rye nose. Upon first sip, it’s a little… weaker than expected. Not much going on with the palate than the taste of a mild coffee… ok, there are some faint tobacco and oak notes here but… oh… wait… there we are. After a couple seconds, boom, the flavours of the whiskey are huge. Vanilla, toffee, nuttiness, and rye cereals. They’ve hit the nail on the head, delivering all the beauty of good Rye, without the jagged edges.
Coffee, milk (2%): Much of the same, though the transition between mild coffee and the whisky finish is much starker. In that way, a bit more unbalanced.
I also asked my partner for her thoughts. She is also a whiskey fan (more American whiskey than Scotch), and prefers more mild coffee than I. She is also a connoisseur of coffees, and, like myself, wants a flavoured coffee to blend well, and be balanced, so as not to merely taste like someone dumped Starbucks flavour syrup in a cup of coffee. She agrees that the whisky flavour is excellent, and that its presence is very natural, but similar to my assessment, the coffee vs. whisky battle is a bit unbalanced.
“I want more coffee” she says. That’s many points for quality, fewer points for balance.
I was told by CCC that their experiments find medium roast to optimize the whiskey-coffee balance. From an academic standpoint, if the quality of whisky flavour in the beans is strictly decreasing in the roast of the coffee, but the richness of the coffee is strictly increasing in the roast of the beans, that means the solution is unique … but different people have different palates, so the solution only matches one set of palates… but no company can reasonably roast beans for all palates… hmmm….
*puts on tweed jacket, grabs pipe*
What if we create our own blend, mixing CCC with darker-roasted beans? The whiskey flavour in this sample is so clear that surely it wouldn’t be compromised if we say, did half espresso, half CCC in an espresso shot? Let’s do this! (I own a lower-end Gran Gaggia barista machine).
50% CCC + 50% run-of-the-mill espresso in a shot: Oh my. This is the sweet spot (for me). CCC has this undeniably beautiful whisky finish, and when mixed with the richness of espresso, you get the nice dark, rich coffee flavour upfront, and the transition of tobacco and oak is much more present. There is even a bit of chocolate and some (indiscernible) fruit here. Moreover, the oily nature of the espresso brings out more richness in the whiskey mid-palate, so as to impart more of a richer, Tennessee whiskey flavour, before the coffee fades, and you’re left with that very pleasant butterscotch and almond-y Rye flavour. This is balance, baby. I swear there was even a point there where the mid-palate was like drinking an old-fashioned.
Replication with a pot, 50% CCC and 50% medium-dark Arabica beans: The above results are robust to brewing in a pot with non-espresso beans.
They’ve really done something special here. Because their coffee “plays well with others”, this property mitigates the roasting optimization problem above. Because there are an infinite set of possibilities between 100% CCC and 100% espresso/insert-favourite-roast-here, you should be able to find exactly the roasting/whisky combination you’re looking for, if you find the coffee to be unbalanced initially.
Now this might look like an unfavourable review because I’m not screaming that I’ve struck gold, but for an academic, the “play well with others” result is something to cheer about. This coffee lets you find your own balance between the whisky and coffee profiles, and I really enjoyed finding mine.
While I cannot grade this on the usual sliding scale (there are no meaningful comparisons, after all), for the sake of a short-and-sweet recommendation: Must Try!
Because it requires a bit of tinkering, I can’t say this recommendation is, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Give me all the whisky-aged beans you have”, but much it’s so much more than a “if you like whisky, you might like it”. Of course, too, if the tasting notes speak to you, that’s what matters most. I can tell you, too, that I’m excited about the Bourbon Barrel version, and may put my money where my mouth is, if the cross-border customs fees don’t prevent it!
Endnote: This has been fun, and above all, delicious; thanks John and Jason!
You can check out their coffee, and what they’re up to at www.cooperscaskcoffee.com