Alcohol farm

Comparison of coffee and alcohol production

For centuries, mankind has worked to perfect the art of producing both coffee and alcohol. We already know that coffee production and winemaking share several techniques (carbonic maceration is a particularly notable example) but where are there other similarities?

From our research, we have noted that in particular, there are parallels in production and trade with two main alcoholic beverages: wine and whisky. All three use similar concepts and terminology, as well as crossover with specific techniques.

To learn more about these commonalities, I spoke with two experts in the food and beverage industry. Read on to find out what they told me.

you might also like our article on coffee liqueurs and spirits.

Farming & production

Terroir is a French word used to describe a set of location-specific environmental conditions that include (but are not limited to) climate, terrain, soil, agricultural practices, and the effects of local culture and heritage on sensory quality.

Originally coined as a term for winemaking centuries ago, it is now a shared concept between coffee, wine and, to a lesser extent, whiskey production.

Carlos Andrés Pérez is the chief distiller of Altamura Distilleries in Ostuni, Italy. He tells me that there is a debate in the whiskey industry around the notion of terroir.

He says there are two different concepts of terroir in whisky: the first is defined by the aforementioned environmental conditions, and the second is a broader concept that includes not only climate, soil and topography, but also heritage. culture and production methods.

“If we focus on the broader concept of terroir, whiskey has it,” says Carlos. “For example, Scotch whiskey is made with a particular and strict set of rules and equipment that every Scottish distillery must use.”

For wine, the environmental aspects of the terroir are much more important. Soil properties such as temperature, gradient and mineral content are related to quality, and local water can further affect the sensory profile. This is how wine appellations (a kind of geographical indication) are established.

For example, cooler regions generally produce wines with higher alcohol content (ABV) because the longer development time leads to higher sugar content. This sugar ferments and then breaks down to become alcohol. Meanwhile, the reverse is often true for warmer regions, where wines instead have more acidity but lower alcohol levels.

Likewise, when the arabica plant is grown at higher elevations, cooler temperatures extend the development time of the bean. This leads to higher sugar levels, which results in denser, higher quality grains.

The target altitude range for growing arabica coffee is 900 and 2,100 m. These higher elevations are perfect for growing coffee with higher sweetness and acidity. In contrast, robusta is less sweet and sour, but thrives at lower altitudes.

Temperature and rainfall also influence the flavor of whiskey and have a specific effect on acidity. High temperatures and less precipitation lead to lower acidity.

Carlos also explains that the country of origin is important. For a whiskey to be Scottish, for example, it must be produced in Scotland.

Specialty coffee has some parallels here, but the industry is still working towards widespread acceptance of geographical indications.

A few examples already exist, including the famous Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee label, as well as the 100% Colombian Coffee indicator. These two certifications are protected by national legislation.

Further down the supply chain, mixing is also common practice for all three beverages. Wine, coffee and whiskey are all mixed together. In the same way that coffee comes in single-origin or single-estate batches, there are single malt whiskeys (made at a single distillery) and single-vineyard wines.

Much like single-origin coffee, single malt and single-vineyard whiskeys and wines are generally considered products that have more individuality and show more of the individual efforts of the vineyard or distillery throughout the process. production.

wine producers

What about fermentation?

Fermentation is a chemical reaction in which substances are broken down into simpler substances by enzymes. In the case of alcoholic beverages, fermentation is the transformation of sugar into alcohol by enzyme-producing yeasts.

Generally speaking, fermentation is an anaerobic process, meaning it occurs in the absence of oxygen. Other conditions should also be considered, including adding yeast or bacteria, sugar content, temperature, and using the right type of container.

Depending on the type of wine produced, the process may vary slightly. Basically, white wine is created by fermenting grape juice, while red wine is made from the whole grape, including the pulp and skin.

Microorganisms such as yeasts or bacteria can then be added to aid fermentation, converting sugars into ethanol and other compounds. This gives the wine its distinctive aromas and flavors.

Viva Lenoir is Head of the Flavors Department at Editions Jean Lenoirthe publishing house responsible for The Nose of Coffee, The Nose of Wine, and The Nose of Whiskey. She says that in the case of whisky, especially single malt Scotch whisky, malted barley is the crucial ingredient.

The barley is soaked in water for up to a day, allowing the grain to germinate, but not flourish. This brings out the starch inside the grain. Subsequently, this starch is dried, mixed and ground, before being again soaked in water. This time, however, yeast is added, allowing fermentation to occur.

During the drying stage of whiskey production, a distinct chemical reaction occurs. This is called the Maillard reaction, in which sugars interact with amino acids, resulting in the brownish color associated with spirits like whiskey. It also creates new volatile flavor and aroma compounds.

The Maillard reaction is also an important aspect of coffee roasting; it gives coffee its smoother flavors and color as the sugars in the bean caramelize.

As we know, coffee also undergoes a varying degree of fermentation. Fermentation begins as soon as a cherry is picked and can then be controlled by processing in several ways.

In recent years, experimental processing methods that rely heavily on fermentation have been associated with high-scoring specialty coffees. One of the best examples is carbonic maceration, first popularized by 2015 world champion barista Sasa Sestic.

However, the process itself is actually borrowed from winemaking. Carbonic maceration consists of rinsing a tank containing coffee cherries with carbon dioxide, driving out any residual oxygen and ensuring that the fermentation is fully anaerobic.

barrels of alcohol

How do fermentation tanks vary?

Using the right container is more important than you think. For alcohol in particular, there is a noticeable impact on the final flavor profile.

For example, red wine is usually fermented in oak barrels, resulting in a smooth taste. White wine, on the other hand, is fermented in stainless steel tanks, which exacerbates its lighter, crisper flavors.

Generally speaking, barrel aging preserves wines and improves their organoleptic (sensory) properties and chemical composition. It is also said to alter and enhance the resulting quality. In addition, several chemical reactions are facilitated by the barrel and the transfer of compounds between the wood and the wine contributes to the complexity of flavors and aromas.

When it comes to whisky, barrel aging is key. Viva points out that the type of barrel and the origin of the wood are also important.

“Once the fermentation is done, the whiskey is distilled twice to achieve a higher ABV,” she says. “This distillate doesn’t have much flavor, of course. Some types of general aromas, such as peaty aromas, can be found, but 80% of the taste in whiskey actually comes from the wood.

In coffee production, the vessels used for fermentation are often simpler. Stainless steel and plastic tanks are common. However, in recent years, barrel aging experiences have become more popular.

whiskey in glasses

What about classification and tasting?

Body, aroma, flavor and acidity are all attributes often used to describe both wine and coffee. The cafe has Q dimmers and the wine has sommeliers, both of whom are accepted as accredited professional tasters.

Tasting and wine tasting even follow similar scoring processes. This is why there are many similarities between the Wine Aroma Wheel and the Coffee Taster Flavor Wheel.

For whisky, however, Viva explains that tasting relies on many sensory wheels. Still, she says when it comes to sensory skills, you have to own the experience.

She says, “You have to make it very emotional and personal. This is how you will find an answer, since it is your cultural background that will allow you to identify certain things that you know better than anyone.

Interestingly, she adds that professional whiskey tasters avoid using ice because the lower temperature affects the molecular makeup of the drink.

This could be likened to how coffee tasters refrain from adding anything other than water to coffee, allowing it to be evaluated in its purest form.

“Usually you never put ice in whisky,” she concludes. “However, if it’s something you like, go for it. Everyone is entitled to their taste.

pour coffee

It is clear that the greatest common point between these three products is simple: their sensory qualities are influenced by their terroir, their fermentation and their transformation.

Although there may be more similarities than expected, it is clear that an open dialogue between the wine, whiskey and coffee industries could help drive innovation in all three in the future. The emergence of carbonic maceration is an excellent example.

For producers looking to deliver increasingly complex, high-scoring coffees, this could be a cue to experiment with other techniques from existing supply chains – as long as it is a financially sustainable experiment. .

Did you like it? then read our article carbonic maceration and biodynamic agriculture.

Perfect daily grind

Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter!