Recently, Rogue Ales and Spirits sent me two beers from its Cold Brew ale series, in which the brewery blends cold brewed Stumptown coffee into an IPA and a blonde ale. Rogue has long offered its Mocha Porter, a more intuitive pairing of coffee with a dark style of beer, so these unusual styles got me to thinking about coffee’s role in beer.
Dark styles of beer, such as porters and stouts, already offer complementary flavors and aromas to java. Roasted barley for instance, a key ingredient in dry and Irish-style stouts, has an intense French-roasted coffee character. You may be reminded of coffee in such beers though no beans were present during brewing.
As such, it’s a natural progression to play off of these associations, to take a roasty stout and enhance it by adding actual coffee. Brewers have long been infusing darker styles of beer with the beverage; for example, over two decades ago, in 1995, the Redhook Brewery of Seattle first brewed Double Black Stout, using locally roasted Starbucks coffee.
Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company, which began distribution in Oregon last year, brews Breakfast Stout, a highly sought-after imperial oatmeal stout with two types of coffee. It debuted in the early 2000s and the story has it that the beer was inspired by chocolate covered espresso beans.
Locally, Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing Co. produces Stand Up and Shout Vanilla Coffee Stout, offering it as part of its year-round lineup. In addition to vanilla beans, the brewery adds medium roast Kona King coffee, at the rate of one-half pound per barrel (which equates to 10 pounds per batch on its 20-barrel brew system).
I reached out to Wild Ride’s owner Brian Mitchell to inquire about the challenges of brewing with coffee.
“The primary challenge is making sure we find a true balance between the coffee and beer, or in other words making sure that the coffee added doesn’t overwhelm the beer, but instead complements the beer,” he wrote via email. “Another challenge is keeping the coffee from adding too much of an astringent bitterness to the beer, which can be created from the acidity of the coffee.”
Stand Up and Shout pours an oily black color and presents rich and roasty coffee aromas, much like a freshly brewed cup of joe. The roasty, slightly astringent coffee flavors mesh well with the black and roasted malts of the stout, and while the coffee character dominates the experience, a touch of vanilla sweetness becomes apparent as you sip.
For the coffee-curious Stand Up and Shout is a well-brewed introduction to the style, highlighting the contribution of the coffee while balancing the sweet notes of the underlying stout.
Three Creeks Brewing also brews an imperial stout with coffee, Frontier Justice Coffee Stout, available in the fall as a seasonal specialty. The brewery incorporates Sumatra roast coffee from Sisters Coffee Company at the rate of 4 pounds per barrel for an intense mocha-like experience. Though unavailable until October, you may still be able to find bottles at the specialty stores, as well as the rye bourbon barrel-aged version.
In recent years, brewers have branched out beyond the dark-beer-plus-coffee formula, experimenting with lighter styles with surprisingly successful results. One of the first examples I encountered several years ago was Java the Hop, a coffee-infused IPA from Astoria’s Fort George Brewery.
Wild Ride also offers a nondark coffee beer, a seasonal blonde ale called Twist and Shout Coffee Blonde.
“Stouts and Porters are the common style you’ll see coffee in due to the roasted malts, etc., used in those brews, but you can certainly see coffee added to other styles if done well,” said Mitchell.
Twist and Shout is a sessionable 4.5 percent alcohol by volume, and is brewed with Colombian and Ecuador Whole Bean Coffee, provided by Megaphone Coffee Roasters in Bend, according to Mitchell.
“The Colombian coffee had a very nice body, but was lacking a bit with its aroma,” he said. “The Ecuador coffee was lacking a bit in the body, but the aroma was more prominent. The two coffees complement each other nicely to have the presence desired in this Blonde Ale.”
Other styles highlighting coffee aside from IPA include blonde and cream ale, Kolsch, Belgian styles and even sour ales.
As for Rogue’s Cold Brew ales, the IPA and blonde sent to me present an interesting contrast to the coffee stouts. Rather than dark roasted notes, the coffee aroma tends toward fresh and nutty in both, drawing out similar qualities in the underlying malts.
The IPA is dominated by the coffee, with big roasted bitter flavors right up front which will be familiar to black coffee drinkers. There is more balance in the blonde ale, with a pleasantly sweet malt graininess blending with a lightly creamy coffee character. Of the two, I preferred the blonde ale, Cold Brew 2.0.
If you haven’t experienced Wild Ride’s or Three Creeks’ coffee beers yet, they are worth seeking out as introductory examples to the world of pairing the two beverages.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!