While both coffee and beer are “brewed,” at least in part, by steeping roasted seeds in hot water to extract the flavor compounds locked inside, the resulting beverages have very different pleasant effects for those who consume them.
It’s only logical that brewers would think to integrate coffee into the beer-brewing process. Contrary to the psychological pick-me-up you might experience from the flavor of a coffee beer, the amount of caffeine in most coffee beers is a small fraction of that in a typical cup of joe.
Following are a few California-brewed coffee beers I sampled recently.
Golden State Brewery
Santa Clara’s Golden State Brewery brews Coffee Stout using cold-brewed coffee from Woodside’s Highnote Coffee. Black in color with a low tan head, the aromas were pronounced dark cocoa and dark roast, with a touch of smokiness and minimal sweetness.
While the cold-brew process for coffee reduces astringency and bitterness, the underlying stout must have had a relatively high proportion of roasted malts, because the roast flavor was quite aggressive from the initial impression all the way through the finish. Medium bodied, with no sweetness or caramel notes to speak of, the beer also was brewed with coconut sugar, which is highly fermentable and contributed to a dry finish.
Camino Brewing Co.
Camino Brewing Co.’s new San Jose brewery commenced operations in March, and its new taproom grand opening was April 7. The bottle of Café Con Leche I purchased for this review was contract brewed by E.J. Phair Brewing Co. in Pittsburg before the San Jose brewery opened and was brewed with San Jose’s Chromatic Coffee.
The beer poured a deep, dark brown color with a dense, persistent tan head. The nose showcased a creamy sweetness with touches of caramel and coffee roastiness underlying. On the palate, the caramel character was even more pronounced, with lactose sweetness retreating to the background. A slightly fruity character may have been yeast-derived but more likely came from the Ethiopian-origin coffee. The beer was medium bodied with prickly carbonation, and the dark cocoa and roasted coffee flavors were subdued but did extend into the medium-dry finish.
Belching Beaver Brewery
Belching Beaver Brewery in San Diego collaborated with the band Deftones in the development of its Good Morning Beautiful Brown Ale with coffee, coconut and maple syrup.
In the glass, the rich brown color was bordered with ruby highlights and a dense, tall beige head. With an excellent balance of coffee, caramel sweetness and coconut, the beer smelled like a coconut flan served alongside a latte, with the maple syrup aroma complementing the other notes. The flavors were similar to the aroma but more subdued, with the rich coffee notes coming across more strongly than the other components. The beer was light bodied with relatively high carbonation, and the finish is refreshingly dry despite the impression of sweetness from the maple and coconut.
Modern Times Beer
San Diego’s Modern Times Beer has the distinction of being both a coffee roaster and a brewery, so it tends to create some of the best coffee beers available. Haunted Stars Imperial Porter with New Orleans-style coffee, chicory and vanilla was no exception.
The beer was dark brown with a fluffy, long-lasting khaki head and moderate carbonation, and the aroma was that of a slightly spicy freshly brewed coffee with cream. Haunted Stars honestly tastes more like a fresh-roasted cup of cold-brewed coffee than a beer, eminently smooth with no harsh bitterness whatsoever, but the rich, velvety mouthfeel gives it away. The spicy rye and zesty chicory pair together very well, but both take a backseat to the coffee character. The 8 percent ABV is not particularly noticeable, and the beer’s long, smooth, silky finish is medium dry, even with the added sweetness of vanilla.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.