Coffee and beer serve as the day’s opening and closing curtains. That these two would intersect is not surprising—coffee’s roasted vigor accentuates the chocolaty, java-like flavors of midnight-tinted porters and stouts.
While there’s nothing wrong with simply dumping espresso into stouts (try Elysian Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout), inventive brewers are creating compelling mashups by roasting beans, aging them in barrels and infusing coffee in lighter, seemingly incongruous styles such as bitter India pale ales, refreshing blonde ales and delicate cream ales.
“It’s unique and surprising the first time you drink a beer like that,” says Chris Davison, head brewer at Wolf’s Ridge. His creation, Clear Sky Daybreak, is a golden cream ale that’s seasoned with a rotating assortment of beans. “The cream ale has been an amazing blank slate. You really start picking out the nuances of each bean.”
Modern Times takes the coffee-beer crossover to its zenith. The San Diego brewer roasts its own coffee, which is sold by the bag, and added its Black House oatmeal stout. It also cans cold-brewed coffee, runs a taproom café and ages beans in barrels that once contained Madeira or rum.
“From sourcing to roasting to dosing, we can do all of those things with a specific beer in mind,” says Jacob McKean, the company’s founder and CEO.
Most often, brewers impart the just-percolated aroma with cold-brew concentrate or by steeping beans in beer. Says McKean, “We’re adamant that the best way to add coffee to beer is to steep freshly roasted whole beans in cold, uncarbonated beer.”
Still, to create sublime coffee beer is a balancing act.
“If it doesn’t smell like strong black coffee, people think the coffee isn’t there,” says Davison. “For the lightest roasts, I’ve had great results in really pale and unusual beers like our hefeweizen and helles lager—beers no one wants intense, roasty coffee flavor in, anyway.”
Intelligentsia’s House Blend adds memorable notes of milk chocolate, apples and citrus to Goose Island’s medium-bodied golden ale. A brunch beer? You bet.
Stone blurs the boundaries between brewer and barista with this double IPA that’s laced with espresso, cocoa and lactose, which supplies sweetness balanced by back-end bitterness.
The Oregonians hit this eye-opening IPA with homegrown hops, then blend in bold Stumptown cold brew for a buzzy punch.
“Barrel-aged coffee beans take on the flavor and aroma of the barrel in a big way,” McKean says of the Bourbon-casked coffee that flavors his opulent, spirited stout.
The Columbus, Ohio, brewery doctors its smooth, crisp cream ale with vanilla beans and a rotating assortment of lightly roasted coffee beans.