A different kind of cold brew
Waukesha native finding success with liquor-aged and paleo coffee

By Cara Spoto - Freeman Staff

Jan. 7, 2018

Waukesha native and Philoçoffia owner Johnny Farrell poses with bottles of his Paleo and Cognac barrel-aged cold brew coffee at an OutPost Natural Foods location on Friday.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA – Waukesha native Johnny Ferrell was about to start a new venture – a coconut-based non-dairy creamer – when he decided to see what kind of preservation effect coconut oil might have on coffee beans.

He made a bit of a mess in his kitchen, but right away he knew he had landed on something incredible.

“The smell was just amazing,” he recalled Friday. “It had this underlying savory flavor, but with reduced bitterness.”

Flash forward a year and half later to today, and Ferrell is busily building a growing retail coffee business focused on a “paleo” cold brew coffee that uses a flavorless coconut oil to preserve the richness and freshness of the brew, and a growing line of cold brew coffees infused with the flavors of whiskey, cognac and tequila.

Bottles of the cold brews are sold online on the company’s website, philocoffia.com, and at OutPost Natural Foods locations, Good Harvest Market in Pewaukee and Beans & Barley in Milwaukee. He also sells beans of the barrel-aged coffees on the website.

Preservation and flavor

Dubbed Philoçoffia in a nod to both a love of coffee and knowledge, Ferrel’s business owes its initial start to knowledge the businessman gained during his years working in the coconut water business.

After serving in the Navy, the Marquette University High School graduate, started working for coconut water company Vico. When the company was sold to Coca Cola, he started his own coconut products company called Ecos.

It was while working on that non-diary creamer idea for Ecos that Ferrel decided to focus entirely on coffee, starting first with his sugar-free cold brew called Paleo.

Working with Waukesha-based Cafe De Arts Roasters he selected a collection of beans that would deliver a richer, less bitter coffee.

The Paleo cold brew coffee sold in stores and on his website uses those beans, which are later coated with an an expeller-pressed coconut oil.

Devil’s cut

While his Paleo cold brew continues to draw fans, Ferrel is equally encouraged by the growing popularity of his barrel-aged liquor infused coffees.

“People are kind of blown away by them,” he said. “It’s alcohol-free but it’s real liquor flavor.”

Ferrel stumbled on the venture after visiting Eagle Park Brewing Company in Milwaukee and tasting one of their beers made in part from bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans.

He started doing research and found that while there were a few companies out there selling liquor barrel-aged coffees, most were only doing Whiskey barrel-aged coffees. “I thought 'what if you did one with cognac'” he said.

To make his barrel-aged coffees, Ferrel ages green, un-roasted beans in former liquor barrels, and then uses various infusing methods to boost the liquor flavors in each. When the beans are done they get roasted at Cafe De Arts. The bottled coffee that is made from those beans then gets brewed and bottled at a commercial kitchen in Bayview that he shares with Top Note Tonic, a Milwaukee- based tonic and ginger beer producer.

The coffee that comes out ends up tasting a lot like Irish coffee, Ferrel said, especially the whiskey-infused version.

The tequila cold brew coffee has a unique flavor as well, like the agave plant itself, but not sweet, he said.

The cognac-infused brew has a spicy, warm flavor that is welcoming to newcomers, said Ferrel, especially those not looking for a strong liquor flavor.

For those who want a really strong liquor flavor, the entrepreneur encourages customers to keep their eye out for his new “shot” versions.

“I have been selling the two-ounce, espresso-strength shots in the Paleo line for a month now, but I think with the barrel-aged (coffee) is going to be really cool. It’s not just an espresso shot, it’s also like your are taking a shot of tequila or whiskey.”