April 12, 2011

Coffee Beer Collaboration

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.



  1. Nottingham yeast? Really?

    No suggested (or better yet, tested) liquid yeasts? No suggested started size?

    How many volumes did you carbonate at?

    What bean to water ratio did you use for the cold press? For how long?

    Length and temp of fermentation?


  2. Why not just used Franco Belges Coffee malt?

  3. I just wrote a rather lengthy reply to you that blogspot unfortunately lost. Here is a condensed version:

    1. Sorry to leave stuff out.
    2. This is a work in progress. I'll probably try the London Ale III strain in the future. Will post with results.
    3. I wouldn't recommend a starter with dry yeast. One pack would be fine.
    4. 2 weeks primary at 58-60 degrees, 3 weeks secondary, two weeks in bottles before trying.
    5. Carbonation was to 2.6 volumes, which was too much. I think going way low, like 1.5 volumes, would suit the beer better.
    6. Cold press was .5 gallons water to 1 lb ground coffee in a toddy system. Steeped for about 36 hours.
    7. Revision: only historically focused versions of Brown Porter need Brown Malt. Modern versions don't need it (according to the BJCP).

  4. The former Hurricane Brew-pub in Mobile, AL once did a Munich larger with coffee, the head brewer just brewed up a batch of good coffee and dumped it in. It was fantastic, much better than any commercial or homebrewed coffee stout or porter I've had.

  5. That Franco Belges Coffee malt is great stuff, but definitely not the same as coffee. I guess it mainly has a toasted malt character, with some coffee notes. And actual coffee can be very complex and bring a variety of flavors, not just the stereotypical "coffee" flavor. Nothing brings the coffee like coffee. Makes me wonder if one could roast a coffee to bring out the "beer" flavors.

    Munich lager with coffee is one I haven't heard off being done before, but that sounds amazing! I think that the brewed coffee method will result in more acidity, tannins and roasted flavor than our method. When combined with something smooth and robustly malty like a Munich lager, I can see that working really well.

  6. Perculator Dopplebock from Dark Horse. Nuff said.