Barrel aging was once reserved for wine and liquor. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see sugars, salt, and even chocolate get the barrel-aging treatment. Starbucks is banking on coffee as the next big thing — and it looks like the coffee chain is onto something. Set aside that whiskey and bourbon, because the Starbucks Reserve Whiskey Barrel Aged Sulawesi is taking center stage at the brand's Seattle Roastery.
"Exploring the potential of coffee and marrying nontraditional experiences and techniques together is something we're experimenting with daily," Duane Thompson, a member of Starbucks' beverage R&D team, says. "We start with the bean first and go from there."
To make this one-of-a-kind roast, Starbucks' master roasters take 800 pounds of unroasted green Sulawesi beans and hand-scoop them into fresh American Oak-Aged Whiskey Barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co., a small-batch distillery based in Washington state. From there, the beans get mixed on a regular basis so that each one has a chance to come in contact with the barrel, imparting them with the flavors and aromas of oak and more.
"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 flavor 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."
Then, the beans get roasted by Starbucks' Master Roasters. The roasting process gets rid of any residual alcohol, but all the whiskey flavor stays put. Starbucks baristas use the beans in two ways. The Barrel Aged Cold Brew highlights the caramel and vanilla flavors of the process. The second option, a hot Barrel Aged Con Crema, is "a hot pour-over of Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi mixed with barrel-aged vanilla syrup, topped with cascara sugar cold-foam topping." The beans themselves are available for purchase, too, so home brewers can get to experimenting with this unique roast.
These barrel-aged beverages and beans are available exclusively at the Starbucks Roastery in Seattle.