River City Roasters Oak Barrel Aged Colombia Supremo

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Today’s review is an oak barrel aged Colombia Supremo from River City Roasters in Wheaton, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago, more or less). River City Roasters is one of the roasters I work with through my curated subscription service at roasters.co but this coffee, being a limited edition, is only available directly through River City for $18/bag.

I’m all for experimentation in coffee. There are SO many variables from tree to cup that it boggles the mind and the only way to know if something will elevate coffee even further is to try it. Two trends that I haven’t been able to embrace, yet, are nitro tapped cold brew and barrel aged coffee, although the latter I had not yet tried, until now. I don’t know if it’s worth getting into my trepidation about both trends right now… maybe I’ll post my thoughts on them in another, separate post since today is about looking at this coffee from River City!

Myself and several other roasters.co curators received some samples of River City Roasters’ coffees around the same time. I was deep in my review queue and I’m kind of glad I was because Brian Beyke (good Instagram, also I Brew My Own Coffee podcast) brewed up a batch of this coffee as a cold brew and, inspired by him, I did the same.

I’m glad I did because I enjoyed this coffee a lot more as a cold brew than as a pourover.

I’m not sure about any of the details of the coffee itself other than that it is a “Colombia Supremo” picked for a “smooth” flavor that probably is mild and so doesn’t compete with the barrel flavors. The barrel used for this coffee was a bourbon barrel. The website shows an empty Woodford Reserve bottle but I’m not sure if that’s the type of barrel they used, or not.

Green coffee easily picks up flavors from the containers it is stored in, or even things that are stored nearby, like chemicals or fuel that may’ve been near it in a shipping container, for example. So, the idea of barrel aging, which has been a huge trend in the beer business (and coffee people seem to take a fair number of cues from the craft brewing business) for years, was naturally picked up by roasters fairly recently. I’m starting to see barrel-aged coffees everywhere now. The process is simply to toss green beans into a barrel of some sort (I’ve seen wine, bourbon, rum and others used) that isn’t too wet, let them sit for a while, and then roast them with their newly imbued flavors. Imbibe magazine did a great article on barrel-aging coffee a couple years ago.

My Cold Bruer
My Cold Bruer

I used my Cold Bruer tower (from Kickstarter a couple years ago!) to run a 6-7 hour drip on this coffee. I had one glass of the concentrate just straight on ice and one with a good amount of whole milk. Both were interesting. I think the milk muted the already-muted coffee flavor so it was sort of like milky, sweet bourbon flavors. The bourbon was really apparent and my palate didn’t really attenuate to it like I thought it would. It was pretty good that way, but a high-calorie, rich, almost-dessert.

Poured straight over ice, my cold brew was pretty smooth, had a bit more coffee-ness to it and the bourbon was still very apparent. The bourbon imparted vanilla and lots of sugary notes, but also maybe more aroma than actual mouth flavor. Recall that aroma is a huge  component of what you taste, so either way, it was there and you will not have to search for any bourbon. It’ll whack you over the head!

My overall impression of this coffee as a cold brew was that it was interesting, and pretty tasty, but not really my cup of tea coffee. I could see enjoying it once in a while, but a whole bag of this coffee would be tough for me to get through making it every day. It’s sort of dessert-y so I could see it being used over ice cream (how River City recommends it!), as a component in a cocktail, etc. For me, I tend to land in the camp that says, “If I want a cup of coffee, I’ll have coffee. If I want a glass of bourbon, I’ll have bourbon…”

As a pourover, I didn’t really care for this coffee until it cooled to room temperature, and then it was very similar to the cold brew version I labored over. I found the aroma to be a bit off-putting because I couldn’t shake the thought that it smelled like olive brine when it was hot and the warm cup was harsh in the finish and left a distinctly metallic, almost chewed-penny aftertaste on my palate. All of that pretty much disappeared as it cooled, interestingly.

So, my recommendation for this one is to definitely plan on using it as a cold brew and buy a bag and share it with friends. It’s not a coffee cut out to be a daily drinker for most palates, but as a cold brew it’s enjoyable and I could see it being used a lot of ways in the summertime (cold brew, Japanese iced pourover, over ice cream… I even wondered about doing an affogato with this coffee, which is espresso extracted right onto ice cream!). Also, be prepared to run a couple handfuls of other coffee through your grinder after grinding this one. If you do that right after you grind the River City coffee you shouldn’t have any carry over of bourbon flavor to your other coffees.