Two thousand years ago, oak barrels were new technology. They were more efficient than the two-handled clay vessels (called amphorae) used to store liquids throughout antiquity, and could be easily rolled and stacked. The Romans popularized the innovation, loading up wagons and ships full of barrels for troops and trade across the empire. These sturdy wooden casks were used again and again, carrying spices on one voyage, wine the next. With each journey, the contents picked up flavors from both the barrel and the cargo that came before. Over the centuries, winemakers learned to coax the subtle characteristics from the barrel into the wine as it rested. Distillers have also begun to experiment and innovate with barrel-aging, first with bourbon and whiskey and now with other spirits like vodka and gin.
Over several weeks, the beans are carefully hand-rotated in the barrel and absorb notes of pepper, cardamom and vanilla from the gin and barrel char. They are then small-batch roasted by Starbucks master roasters, a process which burns off the alcohol but retains the aroma and flavor from the barrel aging. The result is a lively coffee infused with a warm botanical essence that highlights its bright citrus notes and caramel finish.
Now, the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery in Seattle is offering a new beverage that borrows from this ancient craft, Gin Barrel-Aged Cold Brew, one year after the introduction of its first barrel-aged coffee with Whiskey Barrel-Aged Sulawesi. The beverage begins with unroasted small-lot Rwandan coffee beans hand-scooped into oak barrels that first held bourbon, then used to age gin by local craft distillery Big Gin in Seattle.
Starbucks Reserve Gin Barrel-Aged Cold Brew
“We started with the coffee, our bright and lively Rwandan beans,” said Jennifer Galbraith, Starbucks manager of product development for R&D. “The beans absorb the botanical essence of the gin, bringing out its bright citrus notes with a sweet caramel finish. The resulting cup is rich, nuanced and unlike anything we’ve tasted before.”
The sparkling new non-alcoholic beverage is a twist on the classic gin and tonic. First, Roastery baristas shake together slow-steeped Gin Barrel-Aged Rwanda coffee concentrate, ice, and a few dashes of lime bitters. The beverage is finished with tonic and a garnish with lime.
“When you go to take your first sip, you’ll smell the quinine from the tonic and the botanicals from the gin and the coffee,” Galbraith said. “Then you taste the orange and lemon, finishing with caramel notes from the coffee and the barrel. It weaves together like a piece of fabric and leaves you with a light, refreshing flavor.”
Starbucks Reserve Gin Barrel-Aged Cold Brew and whole-bean coffee is available exclusively at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle for a limited time, starting March 13.