Bean bash: Speckled Ax and Allagash

Sniff test. Coffee roaster Matt Bolinder samples his first barrel-aged beans with a discerning inhale this week.

I meet Portland coffee roaster Matt Bolinder at Allagash headquarters on an idle Wednesday. The founder of Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee is sipping a beer in the Portland tasting room and making small talk.

He’s not playing hooky from his café, the Speckled Ax miles away in the city’s Art’s District. The coffee roaster is here on a cross-pollinating mission. This winter he launched an experiment.

Armed with 40 pounds of green beans (at their most absorbent before roasting), Bolinder walked into the brewery’s cold cellar, stacked high with wooden barrels of aging triples, and took over two empty vessels.

“Instead of adding coffee to the beer, I’m adding elements of brewing to my coffee,” he says with a runaway smile.

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Sitting pretty. Matt’s beans take over the Allagash barrels for an “undisclosed period.”

Not his first collaboration with Allagash — see James Bean triple — Bolinder wanted to “reverse engineer” a coffee stout, so to speak.

His equation? Add Brazilian beans into a bourbon barrel; pour Ethiopian Sidamo into a red wine cask and see what happens.

The company, like many in Maine, welcomed the venture and offered him the essence of Allagash White to spice up his Ethiopian stash.

“It’s the first of a friendly thing,” said Jesse Watterson, an Allagash brewer digging the process.

Coriander, orange peel and the beer’s secret weapon (mystery spice number three) steeped into the Ethiopian beans for an “undisclosed period of time.”

Though barrel-conditioned coffee has been done before, this may be a first in Maine’s third-wave coffee circuit. The people at Tandem considered it, but begged off to give Matt the first crack.

A day later there was no error in this trial. Behind the counter at Speckled Ax, Bolinder, a laconic fellow by nature, was gushing.

“I could not believe it,” he said after roasting a sample batch of the bourbon-soaked Brazilian beans. “It’s an explosion of boozy aromas.”

The chocolaty coffee took on a buttered rum blast and the Ethiopian Sidamo, a lighter and brighter style, brimmed with floral and citrusy buoyancy.

“We’ve never done anything like this. This is not subtle,” he said. “This is in your face.”

Get in line coffee pilgrims. This is just the beginning. “I didn’t think I was going to get this kind of flavor so quickly,” said Bolinder. “I’m pretty excited.”

Look for these barreled brews on the espresso bar next week.

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.