Beer, it’s what’s for breakfast.
Well, not really, but for a while now morning’s favorite beverage has been finding its way into many an afternoon’s go-to refreshment. Coffee first met beer in the 1990s as craft brewers began experimenting with flavors and ingredients. Roasted coffee beans and the flavors produced seemed a possible complement to beer’s roasted malt. Stouts, in particular, provided an excellent palate profile on which to try coffee, and in the late ‘90s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware was among the first to release a coffee stout. On the West Coast, Seattle’s Redhook Brewing released one, and in the Midwest, New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin did too. Thus began the ongoing tradition of melding coffee and beer, two of the oldest beverages in the world.
Craftbeer.com, the consumer side of Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, notes that coffee beers fall under the catch-all category of “specialty beers,” and adds that coffee beers can be lagers, stouts, porters, cream ales, or India pale ales. Experimentation is nearly limitless although the more popular choices among drinkers lie within the stout and porter styles.
Sometimes brewers will add coffee to their recipes. Other times, they will steep coffee beans in water or in nearly finished beer to get a desired balance or flavor profile. Chocolate or vanilla desserts are a natural food pairing for coffee beers (the sweet side), but so is barbecue or steak or any hearty, smoky meat that can meet a java roast in a dark ale and boost the meal’s savory quotient 10-fold.
Veteran coffee beer drinkers point to several must-tries, including:
Founders Breakfast Stout: With nearly 18,000 reviews on BeerAdvocate.com, this beer carries a 100% rating. Umm, that’s a feat, and evidence of a well-crafted beer. Founders Brewing Co., based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, notes that this beer is brewed with an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and two types of coffee.” It carries “an intense fresh-roasted java nose topped with a frothy, cinnamon-colored head that goes forever.”
Alesmith Speedway Stout: Pour this San Diego-brewed beer in a tulip glass and enjoy. There’s also a barrel-aged cousin, but this one from Alesmith Brewing Co. is the original: “A healthy dose of locally-roasted coffee added to each batch brings out the beer’s dark chocolate flavors and enhances its drinkability.”
Boulevard Magic Drip: You’ll want to be around for this limited release from Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s unusual in that it’s a Wheated Imperial Stout and it’s aged from 8-18 months in various Bourbon Casks, each barrel bringing its own personality of vanilla, oak, and char. The brewery says, “You’ll find notes of well-rounded coffee aroma and flavor that make way for vanilla, cocoa and barrel characteristics.”
Flying Dog Kujo Cold Brew Porter: With wider distribution across the United States and beyond its Frederick, Maryland, home base, Kujo is one to try. It is brewed with Colombian La Caturrita beans from Vigilante Coffee Co. and “offers nutty, roasted malts steeped in sweet, chocolate-forward coffee.”
Smog City Coffee Porter: The awards this beer has won are well earned. Time and again, it is consistent, delicious release from L.A.’s Smog City Brewing Co. From the company: “This robust porter is aged on freshly roasted, freshly ground, organic Groundwork® coffee which enhances the flavors of chocolate, roasted malt, and of course coffee, already present in the beer.”
Terrapin Wake-N-Bake: A collaboration between two Athens, Georgia, businesses, Terrapin Beer Co. and Jittery Joe’s, this coffee oatmeal imperial stout incorporates the coffee roaster’s Wake-n-Bake blend with Nugget hops to create a seasonal-only beer favorite.
Cigar City Cubano-Style Espresso: Crafted in Tampa, Florida, “This English-style Brown Ale is brewed with a heap of Cuban-style espresso beans from Tampa’s Buddy Brew Coffee. Lactose and cacao are added as well, creating a bold ale that brings to mind a fine cup of Cuban coffee,” explains the brewery.
Guinness Nitro Cold Brew Coffee: One of the benefits of this Guinness beer is that it’s widely available. Reviewers describe it as tasting of “strong coffee, dark cocoa, roast malt, black malt” and “full bodied, thick and creamy, with light carbonation—one of the best “coffee” beers.