Coffee beer: it just sounds right. Like when you hear "oatmeal stout", you know that it will be good, even if you've never tried one before. Deep down inside, every brewer wants to be eating oatmeal and drinking coffee and stout at the same time. It is a fantasy that largely goes unspoken, but search within yourself and see if it isn't true.
The problem is most commercial coffee beers I've had I personally do not enjoy. Even ones from reputable breweries that I love seem to fall short. The problem, in my opinion, is that most brewers just want to put "coffee flavor" into their stout. But coffee itself is a complex beverage, full of nuance and balance that can easily be wrecked by blindly combining it with beer, a beverage with very different balancing components. And choosing the stout style, which itself already has roasty flavors reminiscent of coffee going on, often results in a weird, overlapping mishmash instead of a complementary result.
Earlier this winter, during some serious stay-inside-and-eat-oatmeal-while-drinking-coffee-and-stout weather, I decided to undertake the task of building my own coffee beer that honored the bean. I've blogged in the past about making tea beer, and tea is something that I know quite well. But coffee is a world that I don't know very well, so for this project I decided to enlist the aid of Evan Keanes, my Peace Coffee barista friend. You may know Peace Coffee from our Peace Coffee Stout Porter kit, which uses their beans. I made decisions on the beer end of things and Evan arranged the coffee side, and here is what we came up with.
For the beer I chose to split the difference between a brown ale and a porter. Sort of like a brown porter, except not, because technically those have to use prodigious amounts of Brown Malt. Here is the recipe:
- 9 lbs Rahr Pale Ale malt
- .5 lb Crisp Amber malt
- .5 lb Fawcett Pale Chocolate
- .25 lb Belgian Biscuit
- .5 lb Simpsons medium crystal
- 1 oz Fuggle at 60 minutes
- Nottingham yeast
And Evan used a full lb of coffee to make a super condensed cold press, which is exactly what he does at the Peace Coffee shop every day in the summer. He selected the Yeti Cold Press Blend from Peace Coffee for its very smooth taste and low acidity.
We bottled and tasted the first one a couple of weeks ago, and I recently had a chance to try our version side by side with the Peace Coffee Stout Porter kit. The carbonation of our beer was too high for the style (my bad) and, surprisingly, the coffee flavors were not nearly as strong as the Stout Porter kit, which uses only 4 oz of beans instead of 1 lb! I'm chalking this up to the cold press method of adding coffee as opposed to the "dry hopping" method used in the kit. In our beer the thick, oily nature of the cold press comes through nicely and the beer is fairly balanced. Compared to the Stout Porter, there are far fewer roasted flavors and less acidity, and a much earthier, almost molasses-like flavor. Next time we'll be looking into some alternative methods for adding the coffee, possibly doing a vodka extraction for a portion of the beans. In the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye on this batch to see how it ages. Cheers!