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Meet Erik Liedholm, Seattle's first-ever coffee sommelier

Erik Liedholm can be best described as a spirit whisperer. He's an Advanced Level Sommelier (Level III), the master distiller at Wildwood Spirits Co. and a specialist in all things spirit — vodka, gin, grappa, bourbon, you name it. Liedholm also is the first and only certified coffee sommelier in the Northwest.

This begets the one question — what exactly does a coffee sommelier do?

"To be perfectly honest [...] nothing. It is a somewhat dubious title. The real coffee professionals in this town most assuredly scoff at this accreditation," said Liedholm. A wall groaning with awards and accolades, yet he is refreshingly unpretentious and grounded (pun totally intended).

A confessed coffee fiend, Liedholm became a coffee sommelier by what he calls a "happy accident." As a wine sommelier, he already had a discerning palate and finely-attuned senses.

"I grew up in a home where you woke up smelling coffee. It became a part of my DNA. In 2014, I won a sommelier competition at the International Chefs Congress in New York, and one of the spoils of winning was a trip to Nespresso Coffee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. There, you go through a week-long program that teaches you all aspects of coffee botany, roasting, cupping and brewing. You also learn aspects of pairing coffee with different food and beverages and are then tested on your knowledge," said Liedholm.

If you love your morning cup of joe and appreciate the beauty of a glass of fine whiskey too, Liedholm has just the perfect craft beverage for you. In an exciting new project, Wildwood Spirits Co. and Novus Coffee Imports, a Seattle-based specialty coffee supplier, have come together to create a new bourbon whiskey barrel-aged coffee.

Traditionally, roasted coffee beans are simply coated with a flavoring oil to make flavored coffee. Here, in a reverse (and genius!) process of sorts, green coffee beans spend some quality time hanging out in a barrel previously used to age Wildwood Spirits Co.'s The Dark Door bourbon whiskey. The process is a labor of love, with the barrel being carefully hand-turned for weeks on end. The raw beans go on to imbibe unique flavors from the whiskey before being roasted.

The coffee seems to be a sweet intersection between coffee and bourbon.

"From a purely hedonistic standpoint, the coffee is such a pleasure to drink. From a professional standpoint, it was really quite a lot of fun to create. It is for anyone who enjoys a unique experience. Especially someone who likes the flavor of an Irish coffee. For food pairings, try it with something like pecan pie or butterscotch pudding." said Liedholm.

So what's brewing next? Another barrel of bourbon whiskey barrel-aged coffee is already in the works. Also, the first coffee-infused barrel is being repurposed to condition half of next year's release of Wildwood's Irish-style whiskey. Cool beans!

The specialty coffee is available for purchase on the Wildwood Spirits Co. website in 12-ounce whole bean packages for $18.75 per bag, and at all John Howie Restaurants – by the French press cup, by the cold brew glass, or as a cold brew cocktail.

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