During these challenging times, it is comforting to reconnect with old friends. To my joy and pleasure, Craig Russell, a former colleague from my Restaurants Unlimited days recently reached out to me. I have always appreciated Craig’s passion and energy so when our conversation turned to a potential collaboration between our businesses to create bourbon whiskey barrel aged coffee, I was energized. 

As you may know, Wildwood Spirits Co. – the distillery I co-own with my friend and longtime business partner, Erik Liedholm – is the maker of Washington State’s most awarded gin, vodka and bourbon whiskey. Erik is also Wildwood’s master distiller who oversees production of all vodka, gin, grappa and bourbon.

Erik is no stranger to the world of coffee as he also holds the distinction as Seattle’s first certified coffee sommelier –  in addition to being an Advanced Level Sommelier, whose wine lists have won numerous awards. He completed his coffee sommelier training at Swiss-based Nespresso.

Craig is the managing director of Novus Coffee Imports, a Seattle-based specialty coffee supplier (part of the Mercon Coffee Group) whose team has more than 25 years of green coffee sourcing, roasting and blending experience.

When Craig and I spoke last June, he suggested we age coffee in one of Wildwood Spirits Co.’s whiskey barrels. I loved the idea and shared with Erik, who took the ball and ran with it. Within weeks, Erik delivered a barrel used to age The Dark Door bourbon #6. Novus then placed green beans inside and began the careful and painstaking process of hand turning the barrel on a regular schedule for weeks. During this time, the beans took on the qualities of the whiskey and the barrel before undergoing the roasting process. This unique approach is different from developing a flavored coffee, which is usually done by coating already roasted coffee beans with a flavoring oil.

Novus sources the finest quality coffee through sustainable practices across the entire supply chain – from growing to roasting – and is known for its ability to create quality, mutually beneficial partnerships with small producers and develop innovative and premium coffee products for the benefit of its partners and customers. The beans used for the Wildwood collaboration originated from Sulawesi in a region called Toraja, known for having some of the finest coffee in the country. The coffee is Triple Picked, meaning it is carefully hand sorted three different times, resulting in a very high-quality specialty bean that is cleaner and less defect prone.

I am excited to share this delicious bourbon whiskey barrel aged coffee, the product of Craig and Erik’s brilliant collaboration, is ready for you to try! The coffee is rich and incredibly smooth, with notes of vanilla, chocolate and caramel. Twelve-ounce whole bean packages are available for purchase on the Wildwood Spirits Co. web site (www.wildwoodspiritsco.com) and at all John Howie Restaurants. Additionally, my restaurants – including Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar (Bellevue), John Howie Steak (Bellevue) and Beardslee Public House – will offer this special coffee by the French press cup, by the cold brew glass or as a cold brew cocktail.

This is not the end of the Wildwood and Novus collaboration so stay tuned! The second barrel of bourbon whiskey barrel aged coffee is already underway. Additionally, Erik will soon repurpose the first coffee-infused barrel to finish half of next year’s release of Wildwood’s Irish-style whiskey, which has been aging for 2.5 years. By next summer, Wildwood will introduce both an Irish-Style whiskey and a coffee barrel finished Irish whiskey.