It’s no secret that people love coffee. Whether you go to the high end, boutique coffee shop, the fast food drive-through or the gas station on the corner, chances are you can find a wide array of coffee combinations and flavors to suit any palate. The same observation can be made of beer. There are more beer styles and flavors readily available now than ever before. Beer, like coffee, is a sensory experience and people love to try something new.
Although the intermingling of coffee and beer may be new to some, and even a radical idea to others, it’s actually nothing new at all. Once you move past the ubiquitous American light lager style, you will find coffee — or at least coffee-like aromas and flavors — factor rather heavily into several beer styles and modern craft brewing is blurring those lines more all the time.
Traditionally, stouts and porters have struck a natural harmony with coffee simply because the roasted malts used in these darker styles produce characteristics that are very similar to coffee. In fact, a well-crafted stout can be so “coffee-like” one would be hard pressed to know whether coffee was actually added as an adjunct ingredient or not. Roasted barley can give you a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors that could probably fool all but the most astute barista. Purposefully adding coffee during various stages of the brewing process, however, allows for the combination to really yield unique and flavorful results.
Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has enjoyed great success with their popular Breakfast Stout — a high ABV stout brewed with flaked oats, chocolate and two types of coffee. If that’s not enough for you, Founders ups the ante with a limited release version of their Breakfast Stout, called Kentucky Breakfast Stout (or KBS) — this one boasting an even higher ABV and cave-aging in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. This is the American craft beer industry after all, so why stop there? Founders really goes after “breakfast in a bottle” with their uber-rare Canadian Breakfast Stout. This one is KBS with an additional aging in oak that previously housed maple syrup. These jet black, decadent stouts are not for the faint of heart.
If the founders coffee stouts are like the double espresso of the beer world, there are several beers for those who enjoy the lighter, milder side of things — a light roast beer, if you will. One such example that is available regionally as a special release is The St. Louis Brewery (otherwise known as Schlafly) Double Bean Blonde. The “double bean” moniker refers to the use of both cocoa nibs and cold-pressed coffee during maturation. This is unique enough, but the real intrigue is the fact that the base beer is a simple, subtle blonde ale rather than a dark ale you’d expect. The result? A very flavorful beer that offers a real surprise because it does not look like it smells or tastes. The cocoa for this beer is sourced from Ghana and the coffee from Tanzania, so it still checks all the boxes for hipster coffee credibility.
Locally, Route 51 Brewery in De Soto brews a coffee stout featuring a cold-brew Nicaraguan coffee addition from Carbondale’s own roasters, Jen’s Joe. Although you can’t find this beer in stores, you can enjoy it at the brewery or take it home in a crowler. That’s not a typo — a crowler is a 32-ounce can that can be machine sealed, once filled, at the brewery. This more high-tech version of a glass growler keeps the beer fresh for a longer period of time than a traditional growler.
Coffee is popular. Beer is popular. Put the two together and you’ve got something nearly everyone can agree is a match made in heaven, or in the brewery, as the case may be.