Single Origin Coffee Aged in a Pinot Noir Barrel? Only in PortlandI know, I know. We’re all thinking the same thing. Portland found one more thing they could infuse with booze? This time, a beautiful single origin coffee from El Salvador, aged in an oak Pinot Noir barrel? Sure. But think again: beyond gimmick and Portlandianism, to a subtle, thoughtfully conceived coffee roasted by Southeast Portland roaster Water Avenue Coffee, balanced and still very much a coffee beverage.
Water Avenue partner and roaster Brandon Smyth came to the unusual idea—coffee beers are sometimes aged in oak barrels, but not coffee coffees—through winemaking.
“A long while back, when I was still roasting at Stumptown, I was making my own wine. And you can either go out and buy a barrel, which is pretty expensive, or you can add oak powder to wine. And I was making a red wine and I was tasting it before and after I put the oak in there, and what I expected was the oak to tasty oaky, to taste woody. But it actually brought out a bunch of berry, fruit flavor! So I thought, oh man, that’d be cool to try that with some coffee.”
Smyth originally dropped the oak experiment on some Sumatran coffee beans, post-roasting, and found the final brew fruity and “more burly” but overall a bit extreme. His next move was to try aging green, unroasted coffee beans for a short time in a barrel used for making red wine. But it’s not as easy to find a good used wine barrel as you might think—Smyth says one vintner was “so confused by what I was asking and what I was planning to do with it that he thought I was a crackpot.” But when he finally came into possession of a decommissioned Pinot Noir barrel from Oregon vintners Crowley Wines, he knew he just had to use the right coffee. “I opened it up and it just smelled amazing,” Smyth said. “Like cherries.”
Luckily, Water Avenue already had a coffee called El Manzano from El Salvador in their repertoire—a coffee with whose farm they’ve had an ongoing relationship, and which offers flavors of apple, dark berries, caramel and chocolate, while still maintaining a sunny acidity. It’s also a pulp natural processed coffee, meaning the freshly harvested coffee undergoes its drying period with the fruit’s mucilage still on the bean, which can result in sweeter and fruitier flavor in the cup.
“I thought, it’s a pulp natural, and the fruit flavor it had had a lot of red apple to it,” said Smyth. “There’s a certain crispness to it that I felt if you were going to add anything to it, that clarity of that coffee would only bring it out more. The barrel’s not going to cover anything up that would actually be detrimental to the flavor,” said the roaster.
“To me, those fruits that come out, the cherry from the barrel work really well with the red apple from the Manzano. I also feel like having a little bit of pulp helps the coffee absorb the flavor. Pulp naturals age really well, they have a lot of that pectin on the bean that helps protect them from the environment.”
And the results are vivid: a balanced coffee whose intrinsic apple and cocoa flavors and the delicate oak and cherry additions exist in harmonious parallel. You can separate them out in your brain—but in a way that is more likely to surprise and make you rethink tasting than anything else.
Water Avenue has already gone through 300 pounds of the 13-day-aged coffee beans, and they expect to be able to age another 500 pounds before they think the barrel flavor will begin to fade—then again, Smyth doesn’t really know when that will happen, because he’s never tried this before. What’s next?
“I know a guy down here who’s a cooper making cedar barrels, so we’re going to do a cedar one which might be interesting. I don’t want to get too far into it because, while it’s interesting and it’s fun, I’d like to have one thing going on, or all of the sudden, are we flavoring coffee? Is it just manufacturing it, or a certain kind of gimmick,” mused Smyth. “I don’t want to get too weird.”
About the author: Liz Clayton
Source: Serious Eats
English wine: Is sparkling wine better in England than France?
The Duchess of Cornwall has called for a new name for English sparkling wine to match the grandeur of champagne. And for the first time, domestic wine is the most popular in the government’s cellar. Have Britons developed a taste for a home-grown tipple?
Someone arrives with a bottle of English wine. Cue excitable voices saying, “Gosh, English wine is really quite good, you know – it gives champagne a run for its money.”
The surprise used to be palpable.
But English wine has grown up. Today it regularly wins awards – there were four gold medals at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) this year.
It’s a far cry from English actor Peter Ustinov’s put down: “I imagine hell like this – Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine.”
But is there something holding English wine back? It accounts for just 0.25% of total wine sales in the UK, according to industry body English Wine Producers.
This week the Duchess of Cornwall called on producers to come up with a name.
“People should put their heads together and think of a new name for English sparkling wine,” she said while visiting Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire. “It should be something with much more depth. I plan to find a new word for it.”
So is new terminology the final piece in the jigsaw?
English wine has been through a revolution. Old grape varieties are out, new owners are in. The area of vines planted in England and Wales has doubled from 761 hectares in 2004 to about 1,500 hectares today. The country now has 434 vineyards.
Figures just released by the Foreign Office on the government’s wine cellar, show that for the first time more English wine was drunk at government hospitality events than wine from any other nation.
Andrew Neather, Evening Standard wine critic, says the new winemakers tend to be go-ahead types from the City or wealthy lawyers, who want to carve out another career.
They are focusing on sparkling wine, planting more of the traditional champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. In 2010, for the first time more than half of the vintage went into sparkling wine.
Three of this year’s four IWC gold medal winners were sparkling wines. In June, Majestic announced that sales of English sparkling wine trebled in 2012, encouraged by the Jubilee and Olympics.
There is logic to England focusing on fizz. Kent and West Sussex, where the best English sparkling wine originates, are only about 90 miles north of Champagne. The chalky soils around the North and South Downs are very similar to the earth where famous names such as Bollinger and Dom Perignon plant their grapes.
The best English sparking wine is as good as “decent” champagne, Neather says. England’s top seller – Nyetimber – has more to offer than a mass market champagne like Moet Imperial, he argues.
“It’s more interesting, has more complexity and better acidity.” The Moet costs more at £32.99 – although it is sometimes discounted – while Nyetimber is £29.99.
The Financial Times wine critic, Jancis Robinson agrees, albeit with a couple of caveats.
“Most English fizz is now very well made and attractively dry and zesty. But very little has any real complexity since producers generally cannot afford to age it very long.” And cost is a problem. “It’s never a bargain,” Robinson says.
“It is generally made by people who have invested a great deal in new vineyards or winemaking and need to see a return.”
The competition can be significantly cheaper whether prosecco, cava or own-brand champagne. Aldi, for example, sells champagne for just £12.99.
Despite the cost premium, patriotism and the fashion for local provenance suggests that current levels of production are outstripped by demand.
“The industry sells everything it produces,” says Julia Trustram Eve, spokeswoman for English Wine Producers. “Demand is exceeding supply.”
If the English are planning to supplant the Champagne name, they’re going to have to come up with something more dramatic than Nyetimber or Dorking.
Just imagine that rolling off your tongue, “Here, have a Dorking!” or “I’ve brought the Dorks, darling!” when you compare it with the much more regal sounding, “Here have a Champagne!” or “I’ve brought the Champers, darling!”
I put it to you, is there an English county name that equals the magic of Champagne? I think not. Pity, because without that magic ring, Champagne will always be king.