One of the things that I’ve learned from years of working to encourage a more active dialogue between coffee and beer professionals is that the most exciting part of a coffee and beer collaboration the act of tasting through all of the possible blends. More importantly, it also happens to be one of the best ways for people to learn how to taste either beverage.
Through the combination, the respective characteristics of the coffee and the beer can come into clearer focus. The juxtaposition of flavors, feels, aromas and other attributes allows people to to begin to see the commonalities and appreciate both crafts in new and more enlightened ways.
Coffee beers are a point of connection. They are the shared, common space between these two craft industries. And while there are numerous events and popular festivals built around the style, there hasn’t yet been a place where they can regularly be discussed and reviewed. Until now, that is, by me!
I’ll be focusing on one coffee beer partnership at a time, seeking out breweries and roasteries that respect not only quality ingredients and products, but also quality collaborations.
The Makers: Cerebral Brewing and Middle State Coffee
Sean Buchan, head brewer for Denver, CO’s Cerebral Brewing, met Middle State Coffee’s Jay DeRose through a common friend next door to Cerebral at the Lula Rose General Store cafe, which was pouring Middle State coffees. DeRose has been heavily involved in Colorado’s coffee scene for some time through work with the clothing boutique Steadbrook, where Middle State started, and Ninety Plus, as well as being closely tied in with a number of Denver brewers. He is dedicated to clean coffees that represent their origins and all they have to offer.
Cerebral has built their brand around thoughtfulness both into the brewing process and into their sourcing for raw materials. Their approach to coffees in beers has varied from using the coffee as a counter balance to other additive flavors in the recipes, to actually using the beer as more of a highlight to the characteristics of the coffees themselves. This really gets to the heart of what I like to think about when tasting coffee beers: Is the coffee being used as a bittering or aromatic element in the beer, or is the beer being used almost as a sweetener to enhance particular characteristics in the coffee?
The Beer: Forever Awake
I tasted three different beers from this collaboration, each with a slightly different approach. While DeRose is happy to provide as much information as possible about the coffees, he prefers to let the brewer make the final decision as to which coffee to use without out too much leading.
“For Forever Awake, we tried out three coffees that we felt had the best chance for success in the base beer and did small scale trials of the cold extraction in beer before selecting,” said Cerebral’s Buchan. “We were actually really happy with how all three came out but the Ethiopian blend had the slight edge.”
Forever Awake is an Imperial Coffee Stout that features Middle State’s Landspeed Blend. “Landspeed is the only blend in our lineup. Although it’s mainly ordered and used for espresso, it’s usually a favorite on the cupping table against some of the single origins,” DeRose said. “This version is two Ethiopians, with the washed component being Aramo from Yirgacheffe region, and a natural dry processed coffee from Alemu Bukato in the Gedeb district in the Gedeo zone.“
I got a lot of the fruited aroma from the dry processed coffee on the nose with some earthy cocoa notes. The lemon zest flavor of the washed Ethiopia shows up mostly in the finish, along with an almond liquor aftertaste that reminded you that this was a 10.5% ABV beer. This stout style beer with its dense mouthfeel from the oats used in the grist really does drink like an espresso, with the coffee very present throughout the palate, especially as it warmed up. The fruit notes grew with intensity as it opened up.
The Beer: Work From Home, and Barrel Aged Work From Home
For both of the Work From Home beers, the coffee was from a producer in Nariño named Wilson Lopez. DeRose attended the best of Nariño last year with Inconexus, and this was the top coffee on the table. It’s a 100 percent Caturra washed coffee grown at 2,200 meters.
“It’s not too acidic, just nice and sweet,” DeRose said. “A pretty dense seed, and a bit high on the moisture. I used a bit more airflow to roast it, as I normally do with higher density coffees, a tad higher charge temp as well. Fairly fast roast to crack. Just a really beautiful and sessional coffee.”
Work From Home and Barrel Aged Work From Home are labeled as Breakfast Porters, and are distinguished by the addition of both coffee and maple. Cerebral’s Buchan says that Wilson Lopez’s coffee was crucial in balancing out the flavor of the Vermont maple syrup in the beer, which it very much is, as maple can often times translate to the buttery off flavors of the diacetyl compound. Not so in this case, where the cherry and vanilla flavors not only balance the maple addition, but perfectly incorporate it with the coffee. The maple also helps take the edge off of the 9.7 percent ABV (13.7 percent ABV on the BA variant) double porter finish.
The most incredible thing between tasting the original Work From Home and its Barrel Aged version is that while the barrel aging does further pronounce the vanilla flavors, the difference is most expressed in the mouthfeel. The original beer drinks much more like a sweetened black coffee with the cherry notes being more pronounced, while the bourbon barrel aging lends a more weighted mouthfeel, resulting in a profile more like a sweetened coffee with cream and more fudge-like flavors.
For all three beers, Buchan chose to add whole beans to the beer after fermentation, with three pounds of coffee per barrel on Forever Awake and two pounds of coffee per barrel on both Work From Home beers at 35° F for 36 to 48 hours. A number of the brewers that I’ve talk to about this are preferring this method because of the more pronounced coffee aromatics in the finished beer with less bittering profile, though I look forward to talking to more and more roasters and brewers about their preferences.
(If you have any comments or questions for Chris, or would like to submit a beer for consideration, please use this form.)