Starbucks starts selling whiskey barrel-aged coffee

Ben Popken
A Starbucks handout image showing their two new whiskey-flavored coffees.
Source: Starbucks

Starbucks' newest limited edition brew doesn't taste like hugs or Christmas — it tastes like whiskey.

The coffee chain debuted two new whiskey-barrel-aged flavored beverages this week: A "Barrel-Aged Cold Brew" and a "Barrel-Aged Con Crema." The cold brew is served in a sidecar glass with an oversized cube of ice, just like a cocktail might. The crema comes in a little glass mug with a handle. Both are only sold at the Starbucks Roastery store in Seattle, Washington.

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The coffees begin with beans "hand-scooped" into "freshly emptied" whiskey barrels and then "hand-rotated frequently to ensure all the coffee comes into contact with the oak barrel," according to a Starbucks press release.

They're then roasted by "master roasters," burning off the actual alcohol but leaving the smell and taste of whiskey behind.

"The process takes time, care and patience, ensuring we deliver a distinct experience that stays true to the specialness of the coffee while imparting the complementary, distinguished flavor of the oak-aged barrel," said Starbucks beverage R&D team member Duane Thompson. "You get those earthy notes mingling with the oak to create a cup that's unlike any other."

But it's no cheap shot: An 8-ounce serving will set you back $10.

The exotic, premium coffees are part of the chain's new strategy to upgrade the company's branding to be more in line with upscale chains such as Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia. Starbucks' outgoing CEO Howard Schultz announced last year that the company would introduce Reserve coffee bars in as many as 1,000 of its cafés before the end of 2017. Reserve coffee sells for $50 per 8-ounce package and is frequently served cold brewed or siphoned.