Suddenly, it’s perfectly acceptable to start your day with the taste of whiskey. Craft whiskey distillers and small coffee roasters, often dubbed the third-wave of coffee, are joining forces to bring the flavor of whiskey to your morning joe. Vermont’s WhistlePig Distillery ages green, unroasted coffee beans in their used rye barrels, then returns them to Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. for roasting. “We don’t sell flavored coffee, but this was really good,” says founder Mané Alves. “I found the flavor to be exceptional, the closest thing to a truly natural flavor.”
Big players are also getting into the act. Starbucks aged green Sulawesi coffee beans in regularly hand-rotated used American whiskey barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co., a Washington craft distiller. After a few weeks in barrel and a good roast, the coffee was available at Starbucks Roastery in Seattle. And Jack Daniel and Jim Beam both recently debuted coffees influenced by the flavor of their whiskeys. “The beans are infused with actual whiskey that we get directly from Jack Daniel Distillery,” says Jackie Newman, vice president of World of Coffee, the specialty New Jersey roaster that worked with Jack Daniel on the project.
Whiskey coffees seem to fall into two broad camps: those with an unmistakable whiskey aroma and flavor (think big oak spice and rich chocolate), and those with more understated vanilla, caramel, and barrel notes. Either way, no alcohol remains after roasting, so you’ll never have to worry about a two-coffee breakfast getting in the way of your three-Martini lunch.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey Coffee—$21.95/8 oz. Editor’s pick
Produced using actual Jack Daniel’s whiskey, this medium roast arabica coffee is also available in decaf, for those who want a shot of whiskey coffee close to bedtime. “It took about a year to perfect, trying different coffees, different roasts, and different amounts of whiskey,” says Newman.
Flavor: Earth, sweet vanilla, and an unmistakably boozy whiskey note; drying, chocolaty finish.
Steel Cup Certified Organic Barrel Aged Whiskey Coffee—$17/12 oz. Editor’s pick
Peruvian beans were aged for over 2 months in rye whiskey barrels between 15 and 30 gallons sourced from Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey, an organic distillery. During aging, the barrels are rolled to ensure all the green coffee beans get a sip of whiskey flavor.
Flavor: Pleasant coffee aroma with hints of sweet fruitiness and nuts, turning earthy and chocolaty on the satisfying finish.
Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. WhistlePig Barrel Aged Coffee—$13/12 oz. Editor’s pick
This coffee, conditioned at the distillery in WhistlePig Boss Hog Straight Rye barrels, quickly sold out, but there are plans to create future batches. Whether you love WhistlePig, or just flavored coffee, this brew is truly an eye opener.
Flavor: A subtle and soft low-acid blend, where the whiskey and coffee notes balance on the palate. Tastes like a timid Irish coffee.
Dark Matter Coffee Machete—$20/12 oz.
A rotating range of limited edition barrel-aged coffee puts Dark Matter at the cutting edge of boozy beans. Machete was partially aged in barrels that held Woodford Reserve bourbon. Barrels from Knob Creek, Koval, and Rémy Martin Cognac have also made an appearance.
Flavor: Aromatic, with fruity, nutty, and roasty notes; the flavors are lighter and somewhat flat in comparison.
Doma Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee—$18/12 oz.
Doma carefully matches their coffee to the char levels and flavors of whiskey barrels sourced from Dry Fly Distilling, in this case opting for Brazilian beans. After rolling the barrels daily, then roasting, the finished beans are canned to seal in flavor.
Flavor: Fairly neutral, with sweet-tart balance and a cocoa dust/mocha finish.
Qualia Reserve Baby Rye Rye—$16/8 oz.
This small-batch roaster located in Washington, D.C. focuses on sourced single-origin estate and micro-lot beans. Named after musician Baby Bri Bri, this release was conditioned for about a week in barrels that held Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye.
Flavor: Brews up slightly hazy and tart, with boozy whiskey notes on the finish.