All About Beer Magazine - Volume 31, Issue 1
March 1, 2010 By Rick Lyke

The next time you order a coffee or a chocolate drink, you might not be in a coffee house. Starbucks may not like to admit it, but a growing number of people are turning to brewers instead of baristas for their daily fix.

Trend spotting at this year’s Great American Beer Festival revealed swelling ranks of brewers using coffee and chocolate as key beer flavoring ingredients. The Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer category was up 13 entries, reaching 85 beers at the 2009 GABF (fifth largest out of 78 categories) and the Coffee Flavored Beer category had 45 entries, up 17 from 2008. To put these numbers in perspective, Scottish-Style Ale had 29 entries, Vienna-Style Lager had 25 entries and Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout had 19 entries.

While GABF award entries are by no means an empirical measure of a category’s growth, they do provide insight into what brewers are producing and what medals they would like to win. Coffee and chocolate flavor notes are nothing new to brewers, who have roasted barley to bring out these tastes in grains for centuries. Just a sip of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout—which does not contain any cocoa—will show you what is possible for a skilled brewer. Mankind’s fixation with coffee and chocolate have paralleled beer over the ages, with the flavors usually reserved for different times of the day—breakfast—or different parts of the meal—dessert. Now brewers are marrying the flavors with beer and the results are pretty outstanding.

Consumers are embracing the idea of fifth ingredients more and more in the beers they drink,” says Chris Rafferty, brewmaster at Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington, VA. The brewery’s “Dude! Where’s My Vespa?” coffee-flavored brew won GABF gold in 2009. Rafferty believes that the growth in fruit beers may have reached its zenith and increased awareness of Belgian ales means that consumers are much more willing to try beers with spices and other non-traditional flavoring agents, such as coffee and chocolate.

Getting fresh-roasted beans made all the difference in the world with this beer,” says Rafferty. “We let the beans gas off for three days after roasting and use a coarse grind.” The brew starts off using the brewpub’s oatmeal stout recipe as its base. At 16.8 Plato and 6.8 percent alcohol by volume, it’s higher gravity than most oatmeal stouts. The bar serves the oatmeal stout on nitrogen, while the coffee version is either doled out on carbon dioxide or from a cask just to be different, according to Rafferty.

Dark Roast

Like any added ingredient, coffee offers a fair bit of challenges. You have to tweak the recipe to get it where you want it,” says Omar Ansari, president of Surly Brewing in Minnesota. “It’s not a subtle coffee note in our beer, it’s prominent. That’s what we wanted.” How dominant you want the coffee to be depends a lot on how the bean is roasted. Surly Coffee Bender adds Guatemalan beans to the recipe of Surly’s Bender, an oatmeal brown ale.

Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, OR, makes the award-winning Overcast Oatmeal Stout by infusing it with organic coffee roasted by the local Wandering Goat Coffee Co. It takes 13 hours to extract the flavor through a cold water steeping process.

Oregon is a mature craft beer market,” says Matt Van Wyk, the brewer at Oakshire. “People’s palates are becoming more and more accustomed to fuller-flavored beers. And there is a group of people out there who want more flavor, but are not necessarily hop heads.”

At Oakshire the quest for more flavor pointed in the direction of coffee. “The ingredients are changing the way people are thinking of beer. They are realizing there is more than just sweet and bitter,” says Van Wyk, who has brewed with both coffee and chocolate during his career. He says chocolate offers a range of flavors that can be quite subtle, while coffee allows a brewer to dial up a big aroma.

Shenandoah Chocolate Donut Beer is made using what brewery owner Anning Smith will only say are “secret ingredients.” The stout was born out of an observation Smith made watching a bartender mix the brewery’s original rye donut beer with a stout. The brewers at the Alexandria, VA, brewery went to work on making a chocolate donut-flavored brew.

We wanted to create something that was sweet, creamy and full-bodied,” Smith says. The 6.5 percent stout is available year round and has attracted quite a bit of attention for the small brewery.

Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Co. relied on world famous Kona coffee to make its Kona Pipeline Porter. According to Rich Tucciarone, the brewery makes the beer for about six months of the year and has been increasing production by about 15 percent annually since introducing the beer in 2006.

Kona is smoother drinking, with less astringency than most coffees,” Tucciarone says. “We wanted the coffee aroma to come through clearly, but we did not want the 3 a.m. diner coffee flavor.”

Larry Sidor, brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR, says he is happy the brewery had an intern when it came time to clean out the tank after using a 1,000 pounds of coffee in brewing its limited edition anniversary Deschutes Double Black Butte Porter XXI. The beer is based off of Deschutes Black Butte Porter and has coffee and cocoa nibs added to the recipe, plus 20 percent of the brew is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels.

Whenever we make a coffee or a chocolate beer, people just ask for them,” Sidor says. “When you marry good coffee and chocolate to an exceptional beer it reaches out to our customers and intrigues them. It’s really not much of a stretch for a consumer who likes a big beer like an imperial stout to really find they like beers with chocolate or coffee.”

With the cold weather months upon us and thoughts turning to heartier brews, your next beer might just be something that delivers a jolt of caffeine.

Rick Lyke
Rick Lyke has been writing about beer since 1980. He is a contributor to the upcoming book 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die expected to be released in Spring 2010.