We have always enjoyed and appreciated the inspiration of working with fine craftsmen. People who take their trade very seriously, but don’t take themselves very seriously. Who we have a few laughs with, but mostly that they give us inspiration, that they teach us new tricks, and that we grow and develop and become better every day.

We’ve worked with a lot of amazing craft brewers, and now we are so excited to start working with one of the most electric and eclectic coffee purveyors in America, Dark Matter from Chicago.

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Dark Matter have been refining their craft of barrel aging coffee beans for quite a while, and we are very proud to be their first brandy barrel aged coffee adventure.

It is an American White Oak barrel – we believe that the American oak structure is very appropriate to brandy maturation in that it adds a lovely honey, caramel, vanilla note to the spirit, and we think this will carry through to the coffee.

I personally believe the brandy fruit will also complement the coffee fruit very well, with a smooth dark fruit note and that the barrel will add a nice vanilla, caramel tonality to that – that’s my guess and hope anyway.

But we know shit about coffee, so we got Will to write up some stuff and give you more illumination:

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The barrel is filled.

Thanks for hanging in there, but we wanted to be sure we were using a coffee we were excited about, so we’ve waited through the arrival of two containers (550 69kg bags!) to be sure we selected a coffee worthy of the efforts we’ve all put in to make this project happen.

We recently had an exceptional result dropping peaberry coffee into a Basil Hayden bourbon barrel, due in no small part to the bean’s ability to take on moisture from the barrel.  A little background info is in order…hopefully it will not come off as patronizing to those who already generally know a bit about coffee at origin and/or peaberry coffee specifically.

Most coffee cherries contain two beans (which are actually the seeds, as a matter of fact).  Growing together in the cherry is what results in the flattened side of the coffee bean.  However, some cherries, about 5% of them, will have only one bean.  These are the peaberries. They tend to be smaller, rounder, and more dense, and some say that they taste better, perhaps because the one bean has available to it the nutrients and sugars in the fruit generally shared by two beans, or perhaps due to the way they tumble in the roaster.  Whether or not peaberry coffee tastes better is (obviously) subjective, but what is objectively true is that peaberries have increased capability to swell up and take on moisture from the barrel, making it an ideal coffee for barrel-aging.

Any coffee genetic can yield peaberries; in this case we used Caturra/Catuai (or Cat/Cat as we like to call it here on the Mothership) from Finca San Jerónimo Miramar, our relationship partner in Guatemala.  Using a FSJM coffee is an ideal way to make this a three-way collaboration.  Our work with Giorgio Bressani from San Jerónimo represents a match made in heaven; he and we are progressive, forward thinking, looking to push the boundaries of coffee production and preparation at origin and here in Chicago.  He, like us, sees coffee as an ingredient, and understands that barrel-aging in no way suggests that the coffee wasn’t already great, rather, it is just an application and simply another way to derive gustatory joy from the globally cherished pick-me-up.

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Now that the barrel is filled, we will take biweekly samples to track moisture gain, but far more importantly, to track changes in taste.  It is right in line with our sense-driven approach to coffee, not concerning ourselves exclusively with quantified metrics.  Seeing the moisture content of the coffee increase with every sample pulled is a good reassurance that the coffee is changing, but most relevant to us is taste.  Just like the Burger King slogan: Taste is King.  As soon as brandy and barrel qualities start to shine through, we will pull the coffee immediately, as the challenge of barrel aging is to avoid taking on notes of wood and/or char, which are commonly agreed upon off-notes in the coffee-tasting world.

Thanks so much for providing us with the barrel.  We’re super stoked to be doing our first brandy experiment, and couldn’t be happier than to have it be from C&K.

-Will.