Merry Christmas! I know I’m “working” on Christmas, but sharing coffee with you readers is hardly work! I’m adding a little booze to my Christmas morning without actually drinking alcohol… ’tis the season!
SUNSHOWER FARMS 100% KONA BOURBON BARREL AGED
Merry Christmas to all of those who celebrate and Happy Monday to those who don’t! I’ve shared the story of Kate and Doug Hickey with you a bunch of times before… click one of the review links above for more, or better yet, visit their site to get the full picture. Long story short: Kate and Doug were successful, fast-paced Chicago professionals who decided to leave the hustle and bustle (and terrible weather) of Chicago behind. They bought a 8-acre farm on the western slopes of Hawaii in Holualoa and a couple years later they are growing and processing washed and natural coffees (all 100% Kona, grown on their farm), experimenting with coffees like this barrel-conditioned series, growing greens for restaurants and farmers markets, raising goats and hosting events at their beautiful farm that overlooks the Pacific and is bathed in sunsets every evening. Oh, and they run one of Hawaii’s only homebrew stores, if not the only one. What was that I said about leaving the hustle and bustle behind?
Kate sent me her new barrel-conditioned coffees recently and I already reviewed the rum barrel version. I really enjoyed that coffee, more than I thought I would as barrel conditioning is not my jam a lot of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by that coffee in almost every way. This morning I’m taking a look at the bourbon barrel version, which Kate thinks is the strongest flavored of the three and the booziest. What better day than on a Christmas morning to have a little Irish-ish coffee? Please keep in mind, there is no alcohol in these barrel conditioned coffees. This coffee uses Sunshower Farms’ washed Kona coffee. While still green (unroasted), the coffee is put in used Bulleit bourbon barrels. Green coffee is like a flavor sponge. After some weeks/months (I don’t really know, but I’m guessing weeks) with regular turning of the barrel, the coffee picks up flavors from the barrel itself as well as the booze that was inside it, and this flavor is retained after roasting.
Personally, I’ve found that barrel conditioned coffees are either overbearingly flavored and boozy or they’re so subtle you can’t really tell there’s anything added. This changed somewhat recently when I had Vesta’s wine-conditioned coffee and with Sunshower’s rum barrel coffee, which I really loved. Bourbon barrel coffees tend to be over the top for me, so I was really interested to get into this one from Sunshower and see how their version is. I am using my standard pourover recipe of a 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of Third Wave Water in a notNeutral Gino dripper with Kalita 185 filter. My Handground grinder is set to 3.
As with Sunshower’s rum barrel conditioned coffee, this bourbon barrel version is roasted to their “medium,” which they call “dusk.” The roast looked a little darker on this one, and tasted a little darker, than the rum version, with even some oil spots blooming on the surface. I wonder how much of that has to do with the barrel conditioning versus the actual roasting, if any? In any case, Kate says the Bulleit barrels have, “a clear bourbon flavor” and the coffee has, “strong notes of vanilla and a silky finish. A perfect after dinner coffee.”
I got tons of bourbon, boozy notes from the brew aromas coming off the Gino as I made my cups this morning. I was suprised, then, to find that the flavor is more subtle in the cup. As with the rum barrel coffee, a fair amount of booziness comes off the cup aroma, too, so I wouldn’t be drinking this around work or where people may wonder why you’re dipping into the sauce when it’s not appropriate. You don’t need those kind of hassles! There is definitely bourbon flavor to this coffee, which I find to be surprisingly subtle on the front end of the sip where it is challenged by the roasty notes of the coffee itself, then the bourbon note builds through the sip and sticks around pretty much forever in the aftertaste between sips. I find this really interesting and unexpected. While the rum barrel seemed to add some fruitiness and enhance the coffee’s inherent apple acidity and caramel sweetness (also it added a lot of vanilla for me), the bourbon barrel coffee has more of a dryness for my palate. It seems to really bring out the roasty and toasty notes of the roast itself and almost, but not quite, add a sense of smokiness to the cup. In the aftertaste there is that bourbon barrel vanilla note I really enjoy, too. I think this coffee is drier and less sweet than the rum barrel version, but I think the booze level is about the same. This is definitely a roastier, “darker” tasting cup than the rum version, which had a bit more high end.
This is the first bourbon barrel coffee that hasn’t been over the top for me. Again, these aren’t daily drinkers for me, but rather something for a special occasion, a coffee-based recipe or cocktail, or for a dessert accompaniment, but Kate and Doug have the alcohol flavor level perfect, for my palate, in these coffees. The rum or, in this case, bourbon, are apparent, but complementary and not overbearing. Very nicely done and I imagine that takes a lot of dialing-in to do, sampling the barrel over and over until it’s just right. Another winner in my book!