Something a little different today. I was contacted by Fire Dept. Coffee and asked if I wanted to try some of their Spirit Infused Coffee. They sent two bags of whole bean medium roast for me to try: A Vanilla Bean Bourbon Infused and a smaller bag of limited edition Coffee infused with 12 year-old scotch.
Now, let’s start out by mentioning that I was skeptical. First, I don’t drink flavored coffees in general because they always taste too fake to me, like real coffee with sugary syrup mixed in. Second, I actually tried a coffee product that was aged in bourbon barrels a number of years ago and I thought it was awful. So awful I didn’t bother to review it for the blog. In that instance, the issue was probably the beans not the barrel or perhaps I just didn’t like the characteristics of that origin.
Also in case it needs to be said, this is not a sponsored post. I received the two bags of free coffee to review, but no money or anything else. I made no promises to say positive things.
Fire Dept. Coffee is a veteran-owned business out of Illinois that hires and is run by active and retired firefighters. They support first responders through the Fire Dept. Coffee Foundation by giving back to those who have been injured on the job, mentally or physically, or who are facing other serious health challenges. They offer a wide variety of coffees (ground, whole, or in pods) as well as a monthly subscription club for their spirit-infused coffees (rum, tequila, Irish whiskey, etc.).
They say their infusion process is a secret, but they do mention a few details. Namely, that they tried various iterations on aging in empty bourbon barrels (like the aforementioned flop) and didn’t like the results. Now, they infuse the beans directly with the spirits (and, I assume, other flavorings such as vanilla bean, cherry, blackberry, etc.) before roasting. This has the effect of burning off the alcohol (otherwise labelling could be tricky) and also adding complexity to the final product. I assume there’s more to the story, but that’s all they’re saying. Suffice it to say this is still “flavored coffee” but at least they’re not just adding bourbon-flavored syrup or whatever to the grounds and calling it a day.
My tasting process: I ground whole beans in a clean blade grinder (sorry, I don’t own a burr) for 12 seconds (medium-coarse), used 3 tablespoons of grounds, and poured over 6oz of just-off-the-boil filtered water using a “gold” filter. I drink it black. I also ground the rest of the beans and made regular machine drip coffee for a few days. Note that I am not a coffee aficionado, and my opinions on coffee should not be taken as any kind of expertise.
12 Year Old Scotch Infused Coffee (Limited Edition)
I assume they used a 12 year-old blended scotch, but I don’t know which one. I doubt it makes a difference, as long as it’s not peated!
Whole Beans: Smells like good, rich coffee. Slight sweetness, some chocolate, honey.
Nose: Soft, rich, medium intensity. Faint notes of vanilla, oak sugars, raw honey, milk chocolate.
Palate: Rich. Dark. Only mildly bitter, with a few nutty notes, more milk chocolate, and only a hint of the oakiness that I noticed on the aroma.
Finish: Slightly vegetal, with birch bark and mown grass. Fades with mild chocolate notes.
Overall: Very nice medium roast coffee. It’s not in-your-face flavorful, but it’s also got a great balance of acidity, bitterness, and those nice chocolate notes. Easy to drink, unchallenging. I might have convinced myself that there were scotch-adjacent notes on the aroma (notably vanilla, oak, honey), but I couldn’t find any on the tongue. I wouldn’t buy this expecting overt scotch flavor, but I WOULD buy this just to have a nice-tasting medium roast coffee with low bitterness.
Vanilla Bean Bourbon Infused Coffee
Whole Beans: Smell strongly of vanilla. Sweet, rich, nutty, and meaty. Roasty chocolate, caramel, and bourbon-rich oak.
Nose: A clear bourbon scent (oaky, sweet) with loads of vanilla. Round, with caramel, walnut, and a shy roasty cocoa nib note.
Palate: Dark, medium-rich, with a slightly thin body. Very low bitterness, but not as sweet as suggested by the aroma.
Finish: The bourbon flavors don’t reappear until the finish, where they are once again clear as day: vanilla, dry oak, toasted nuts, caramel.
Overall: Another very nice cup of coffee. Like the scotch one, it’s not overtly packed with flavor, but there is a very clear bourbon-and-vanilla character that carries through. It’s not quite as sweet at the scotch one, but carries even less bitterness.
If you’re looking for a spirit-infused coffee that carries some of the flavor elements you’d expect, this one delivers more than the scotch one. I did enjoy drinking both, however. The next few days of drinking the coffees via drip nailed this point home: both of these coffees are much more flavorful than my usual Costco “Whatever’s organic” approach to morning coffee. I found myself looking forward to a cup more than usual, and I continued to appreciate the distinct bourbon flavor (especially).
My only nitpicks: I wish their spirit-infused coffees were more generally available rather than the subscription club getting first dibs. I also wish they had more information on origin, blend ratios, and some organic options. At any rate, I recommend these. Cheers!