Smile Politely

Columbia Street Roastery gets boozy

If you’re a longtime reader of the Food & Drink section, you may recall  February 2012 article about Columbia Street Roastery. In that article Pamela Saunders, Tracy Nectoux, and Robert Hirschfeld waxed poetic about the logistics and interesting details of roasting coffee and experiencing a cupping. I’m not going to revisit those specifics, so go back and reread the article for all the stuffs about how coffee beans are really seeds and whatnot. In this article, I’m going to tell you about the latest experiment happening at Columbia Street Roastery (CSR): booze-infused coffee.

Boozy or booze-infused coffee is not new, but it sure is delicious. CSR owner John Herriot and roaster Alex Kunzelman thought it would be a fun and relatively low-stakes endeavor to acquire some booze barrels and throw some beans inside.

I sampled three different coffees individually and with their corresponding barrel-aged equivalents: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from a wine barrel, Sumatra from a bourbon barrel, and Papua, New Guinea from a grappa barrel.

Ground coffee waiting for some hot water 

CSR’s first foray into flavoring coffee beans in a barrel was with a red wine barrel. This coffee is no longer available — it sold out shortly after it was released couple of months ago. However, the guys squirrelled some away and I was able to give it a try. Even though it’s been some time since the beans came out of the wine barrel, the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe beans still had the mildly fruity red-berry taste of the wine. The coffee was a great pair, as the un-infused beans also carried a lightly sweet and fruity flavor. The wine beans created a lovely smooth and slightly sweet coffee. These two coffees (with and without the wine barrel) were incredibly easy to drink and could easily be part of my daily routine.

The second attempt at infusing some beans was with a bourbon barrel from CH Distillery in Chicago. The bourbon barrel beans have not yet been released — if you’re interested in procuring a bag, you should contact CSR to be added to the contact list. Beans are available on a first come, first served basis, so getting yourself on the list will ensure that you are the first to know when they are available. They should be released on October 27, so send your email now. You’ll be able to buy bourbon beans or bourbon beans with a fancy CH Distillery flask. The plan is to send the barrel back to CH Distillery to see what they can do with a coffee-infused bourbon barrel.

The beans used placed in the bourbon barrel were from Sumatra (Wahana estate), which on their own created coffee with a heavy, rich color, smell, and flavor. The bourbon infused into the bourbon barrel beans was apparent immediately. On the nose, the smell was robust and sweet, just like a nice bourbon. The taste of the coffee was equal to that of the smell: the coffee was smooth and sweet, with fruity hints of something like cherry or plum. This coffee was totally drinkable black, but I also believe that it could be used magnificently in some sort of dessert application. Maybe a bourbon-coffee gelato? Or some sort of bourbon-coffee pecan pie? That would be awesome.

Barrel full of beans

The final two coffees I tasted were with beans from Papua New Guinea’s Kimel Estate. As with the others, I first tried some coffee brewed with the regularly roasted beans. The coffee smelled fresh and ripe, with some notes of sweetness. The taste was similarly fruity and fresh, but with some richness in the body. About two weeks before my visit, some of these beans were placed in a barrel used to make grappa. The coffee brewed from the grappa barrel beans was out of this world. As soon as I broke the crust on the cup, the smell of a heavy, sweet, grapey liquor filled my nostrils. The coffee smelled like grappa. And it tasted like grappa. It was super intense, and super grapey. It was very much a “holy shit” moment, as in, “holy shit I can’t believe that this coffee tastes like grappa.” If you’re looking to impress your friends with some fancy-schmancy-I’m-cool-as-hell-and-up-on-cool-food-shit shenanigans, get yourself a half-pound of these little drunken grappa beans. Even if you don’t want impress anyone, coffee made from these beans will definitely wake you up. It’ll also make a lovely digestif.

On another note, I couldn’t help but think of Gushers when I was drinking the grappa-infused beans. The way in which the fruit flavors unfolded over the tongue reminded me of those little corn-syrup-filled fruit snacks. I know it sounds terrible and I’m not exactly making a compelling case for this grappa coffee, but the way in which the flavor and texture of fruit-flavoring of the Gushers shifted is similar to the way in which the grappa coffee and grape flavor shifts as it moves from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat. Or maybe I spent too much time in college soaking those things in vodka, or using as chasers after shots and therefore have some complicated associations with this particular set of flavors.

Columbia Street Roastery also sells flavored and unflavored coffee, coffee accessories, and even has a lovely room dedicated to coffee’s arch-nemesis, tea. CSR also holds free cuppings — that’s free tastings, you perverts — on the third Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. Feel free to stop by to check it out; I promise you’ll learn a lot.

Don’t forget to contact CSR about getting on the list for the announcement of the limited release bourbon and grappa coffee beans.

Columbia Street Roastery is located at 24 Columbia Street in Champaign, and open Monday through Friday, 8:45 a.m.-5:15 p.m., and Saturday 8:45 a.m.-1 p.m. You can also stay up to date on Facebook.

All photos by Jessica Hammie. 

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