Yesterday I took a look at OQ Coffee Co.’s fantastic Nigusie Estate, a traceable, transparent coffee that came straight from a known farm rather than Ethiopia’s co-op and exchange (anonymous) system. The link to that review is below and I found that to be an excellent example of a natural Ethiopian coffee. Today I’m looking at the same coffee, but it’s from OQ’s barrel conditioning program. For years now OQ has been barrel-conditioning coffees in rum barrels and so let’s compare!
OQ COFFEE CO. RUM BARREL NIGUSIE ESTATE
Please check out my previous review (link is right above here!) to see all about the Nigusie Estate coffee. Sometime over the past five years or so, coffee roasters picked up barrel conditioning, most likely from our pals in the beer brewing business. Barrel conditioning involves placing green coffee in a used booze barrel for anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. Green coffee is pretty susceptible to picking up flavors from its environment, so it will absorb notes from the barrels that persist after roasting. I’ve had coffee from bourbon barrels and from wine casks and, now, rum barrels, too! I’m not sure if OQ has used other types of barrels in their past runs or if they’ve all been rum barrels, but rum seems like a good choice for a fruity coffee like the Nigusie Estate coffee.
Barrel-conditioned coffees tend to run the gamut of how much barrel you really taste. I’ve had some that taste like whiskey with a little coffee tossed in and others that are so subtle you wouldn’t know the barrel was even used. I’m a little torn with both, to be perfectly honest. In the one case, there is the novelty of drinking a very barrel-forward coffee. They tend to be woody and boozy and it’s fun… for a few sips. On the other hand, you still get the mostly-unadulterated coffee flavor, but then you wonder why you spent extra $$ on the barrel conditioning part of it. And, me being me, I really just like coffee, so on a fundamental level barrel conditioning seems to be more about experimentation than really bringing much to the flavors themselves. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to things like that, though, because the same could be said about beer and yet I like a nice barrel-aged stout from time to time. In any case, let’s see where we land with this one!
The current OQ Coffee Rum Barrel Nigusie Estate is definitely in the solid camp, which I don’t mind. Please reference my Nigusie Estate review for my tasting notes on that awesome coffee. Opening the bag I could smell some boozy notes, but it wasn’t in-my-face like some others I’ve had. When I made my first cup, though, I thought I was the victim of a cognitive bias, smelling what I thought I was supposed to smell, because I got very little rum flavor in the cup. I finished my cup and I thought I could taste a little rum… something slightly fruity with a slight boozy edge… that wasn’t in the original Nigusie Estate, but it was incredibly subtle. I wondered if I was convincing myself it was there, or if a mistake had happened in packaging at OQ, or maybe that Catie, their roaster, was testing me (because, you know, she’s soooo evil! LOL). I did a little research and quickly found my pal, Drew’s, review of OQ’s rum barrel series from last year. That one was a Gelana Abaya Ethiopian, which I had from other roasters and know what it generally tasted like (strawberries for days). Drew found the rum barrel to be a nice complement, but very rummy with a lot of obvious flavors.
I contacted Catie and she said I was correct. The current Nigusie Estate is the 3rd or 4th time these barrels have been used by OQ Coffee whereas Drew was getting them on their first use. I didn’t think about the barrels getting fatigued but I know that happens with beer, too, so it made total sense. So, I wasn’t hallucinating and I was getting a little vanilla, a little rum and a little booziness in the aftertaste of the cup, but I also shouldn’t have found the notes like Drew did since the barrels were used 3-4 times since his review.
Interestingly, I ran a cappuccino with that coffee a couple days later and the rum was way more apparent in that drink! LOL I have never used a barrel conditioned coffee as espresso, and in this case it did actually concentrate the flavors some. There was a bitterness in the cup that wasn’t there when I made a capp with the non-barrel Nigusie Estate and also a definite rummy flavor and a dryness in the drink. It doesn’t sound appealing at all but with the sweetness of the milk, it actually turned out quite nice and it seemed like there was a dash of spirits in the mix, which added an unexpected component.
Catie told me that OQ would be replacing the barrels for the next run of barrel conditioned coffees, so keep your eyes peeled. Honestly, the price is right on this Nigusie Estate, so this is a really unique opportunity to buy the current Run 4 of the series, a bag of the unadulterated Nigusie Estate, and then a bag of the next coffee in the series to compare all three! Knowing when barrels are about to be changed out doesn’t happen often, so jump on the chance!