By Alex Wilking
BU News Service
There’s something immensely satisfying about drinking a beer infused with coffee. Maybe it’s the savory, rich depth that the combination of coffee and dark malt presents. Maybe it’s the giddy rush of drinking an upper and a downer at the same time (Four Loko anyone?). No matter your poison, craft brewers are taking coffee beers up a notch by carefully considering how they source and integrate their ingredients.
Brewing beer with coffee isn’t a new revelation — Untappd shows that over 10,000 beers in their database are now being brewed with some sort of coffee. Coffee beers usually take the form of stouts or porters, often sporting the “breakfast” prefix to denote that it could to replace your morning java (see Founder’s Breakfast Stout”). Thrillist did a great roundup of popular coffee beers if you’re looking for a few recommendations.
Coffee beers do contain a bit of caffeine, though the exact amount varies depending on the beer. Caffeine Informer estimates the average coffee beer has less than 50mg per 12 fl oz. Given that average, you would have to drink around six coffee beers to get the caffeine buzz of one cup of coffee. And by that point, you’re going to be too drunk to notice.
But simply using coffee beans in the brewing process wasn’t enough. Now, ambitious brewers are taking that blueprint and making beers that mimic espressos (Clown Shoes’ “The Barista”), cappuccinos (Lagunita’s “Cappuccino Stout”) and even mochas (Rogue’s “Mocha Porter”). Expect subtle nuances like nuts, dark fruit, oatmeal and chocolate to accompany the strong presence of coffee in these beers.
Craft brewers have begun to pay attention to where their coffee comes from too. These brewers are now locally-sourcing coffee beans from neighboring companies, fueling local businesses and spawning friendly collaborations. And depending on the strain and origin of those coffee beans, the drinker could experience a number of different tastes. For example, an Ethiopian coffee stout is going to have a brighter, fruiter taste than a porter brewed using Honduran coffee beans.
If you’re interested in some other notable examples, Draft Magazine did a great write-up on the evolution of coffee beers. Here’s a great quote from the article:
“The interest and level of sophistication of people drinking these beers have increased,” said Paul Schneider, a brewer at Illinois’ Solemn Oath Brewery. “Brewers and roasters are definitely raising the bar and experimenting in ways that make the product better. People were making coffee porters and stouts in ’90s brewpubs but there was no source of the coffee or any process or anything; you just wanted that generic, roasty flavor. Now I think there’s more consideration of acid, floral and fruit tones.”
As Draft Mag’s article notes (if you’re too lazy to read it), brewers are also experimenting with where they add these coffee beans into the brewing process. From using whole coffee beans during brewing, to letting a beer sit in cold-brewed coffee after fermentation, each technique will add vibrant flavors that are redefining what a coffee beer is capable of. Even the hops present in these beers are being selected specifically to tweak and enhance the coffee’s characteristics.
As The Boston Globe brought up, coffee doesn’t normally cross over to non-dark beers. But in the true spirit of American craft beer, a few brave souls are also trying their hand at putting coffee into other styles of beer, like IPAs. For whatever reason, these beers usually come embellished with flamboyant flavor combinations, like No Label Brewing’s “Boomstick Double Black Rye Coffee IPA” or Sierra Nevada’s “No Middle Ground.”
Could we see a nitro-espresso-double-chocolate-pale ale with orange peel and chocolate by the end of this year? I wouldn’t rule it out, for better or worse.
As many of my columns seem to preach, quality and innovation are beginning to take center stage in the beer world. Whereas brewers originally sought after coffee for its “roasty” traits and not necessarily flavor (think Starbucks or Folgers-like coffee flavors), there’s been a newfound desire to make sure every aspect of the beer is taken into consideration. If you’ve never experienced the dual pleasure of a coffee beer, there’s no better time to give it a shot.