Coffee and beer. To the uninitiated they may seem totally unrelated, with one being (usually) a hot drink part of your daily morning ritual, while the other is a cold beverage imbibed (usually) at night to wind down at the end of the day.
In reality, they have more in common than many people think. Yes, they are both brewed. Yes, they have both been celebrated and reviled throughout their existence by various cultures and governments. And they have also had parallel market histories. Both began commercially as small producer-retailers until the 20th century, when they suffered through mass industrial production of inferior products by gigantic corporations through most of the 1900s.
But 30 years later they would be reborn as craft beer and gourmet coffee, with an exciting array of flavours and styles. Though different beverages, beer and coffee can share similar flavour profiles. There are several beer styles, most notably stouts and porters which, when made with chocolate, black patent or similar malts and/or roasted barley, will have a natural coffee flavour. And of course, you can find beers that have had coffee added within their recipe.
While this works especially well with the aforementioned beers, brewers today are introducing coffee into all types of beer from light lagers to IPAs, wheat beers and more. Historically, coffee has been used as an ingredient to add colour or flavour to beers ever since the Arabs introduced it to the Europeans in the 16th century. However, coffee beers as a distinct style didn’t appear until they arose from the recipes created by home brewers in the 1980s.
Their influence on the craft beer revolution cannot be understated, and the first designated commercial “coffee beer” debuted in 1994. Usually the first beers were stouts, as the coffee complemented the roastiness of the malts. The style had a slow to stop and-go growth due to issues with how governments generally viewed adding caffeine products to alcoholic drinks.
To this day, it’s still a grey area in many jurisdictions. However, brewers have been able to dance around the legalities with clever verbiage in their descriptors and labelling, mostly to separate themselves from the alcoholic energy drink people. So how is coffee beer made? There is no one set recipe. One process is to age the beer on roasted coffee beans, or steep the beer on coffee grounds. Another is to add coffee directly into the boil or the fermentation. An alternative technique is to add coldbrewed coffee to the finished beer, proportioning it out to taste. All these methods will produce a different character and flavourprofile, and it’s the brewer who decides what they would like as the finished product.
Whatever the method, most brewers will use good quality coffee low in acidity, which allows for a rich flavour without a burnt aftertaste. They also prefer the roast to be not too dark, letting the nutty flavours show through without all the bitterness. And there are many kinds of coffee to use: espresso, cappuccino, mocha… the list goes on. This blending of two beverage worlds has led to collaborations between craft breweries and regional coffee producers. However, because they are usually done in small batches, you must be quick to try them. While you wait for the next Alberta collaboration, here are some currently available bottled coffee beers you can find in liquor stores or on tap.
Rogue Cold Brewed IPA (USA)
This small Oregon brewery consistently turns out unusual beers. An American IPA blended with locally produced coffee, which masks this amber coloured ale’s 82 IBUs. CSPC 770371, $11.50, 650 mL bottle
Ballast Point Victory At Sea Porter (USA)
An imperial porter with a subdued coffee flavour balanced with a caramel and vanilla finish. Dangerously smooth at 10% ABV.
CSPC 777899, $13.50, 650 mL bottle
8 Wired Flat White Coffee Milk Stout (New Zealand)
Made to celebrate New Zealand’s barista coffee. The sweetness of the milk stout is offset by the Cuban and Brazilian coffee, with a vanilla finish. Tastes like a beer version of café au lait.
CSPC 774710, $11.50, 500 mL bottle
Hoyne Voltage Espresso Stout (B.C.)
A jet-black blend of espresso and stout. Exactly what you think it is.
CSPC 813642, $9.50, 650 mL bottle
La Coup de Canon Dark Coffee Ale (Quebec)
Le Bilboquet Microbrasserie is a tiny brewery that produces mostly nonmainstream beers. This beer is full of dark coffee richness and tastes just like a good ol’ cuppa joe.
CSPC 786147, $7.50, 500 mL bottle
Rogue Mocha Porter (USA)
Pours nice, dark and creamy. Tastes the same way. This beer finishes with nice chocolate notes.
CSPC 735139, $11.50, 650 mL bottle (also available in 6 pk. bottles)
Category 12 Excitation Espresso Stout (B.C.)
The coffee flavour of this beer transitions nicely into a chocolate finish, thanks to the added cacao nibs.
CSPC 788564, $10.50, 650 mL bottle