Last Friday, some of the All About Beer Magazine team went to a tasting where, amongst other characteristics, we discussed aroma, flavor and body. We heard phrases that included “bitter,” “chocolate,” “roasty,” “stone fruit” and “toast,” and we learned about the business’s commitment not only to craft a local, sustainable beverage, but to provide for its employees’ well-being and to support its community’s small business economy.
We observed a hopper transferring ingredients, silos holding raw materials and a hand-labeling packaging line that could go only as fast as the two flannel-wearing guys working it. But ne’er a word was uttered about the beers they may have after work that day. We instead discussed the coffee they enjoyed that morning.
Of course the All About Beer Magazine staff has toured all of our local breweries, so we visited the facility of another beverage near and dear to our hearts and to many of those in the greater beer community. Counter Culture Coffee, located just a few miles down the road from our offices in Durham, North Carolina, graciously opened the doors to their roastery, headquarters and training center for our crew during one of their regular Friday cuppings (like a beer tasting in the coffee world and will be further discussed in a later post).
The intersection of coffee and beer—both the similarities in their respective industries and actually combining the two beverages—is hard to ignore. The Brewers Association Style Guidelines introduced a “Coffee Flavored Beer” category in 2002 (changed to “Coffee Beer” in 2011), and the “Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer” Category of the BJCP Style Guidelines states that it “may also be used for chile pepper, coffee-, chocolate-, or nut-based beers.”
Along those same lines, as the temperature dropped, the rain fell and the Hurricane Sandy winds whipped across my wind chime, I sipped on a Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti brewed with Pablo’s Coffee in Denver. And I can think of at least half of a dozen more local coffee-inspired brews, including Mother Earth Silent Night brewed with Counter Culture Coffee, Big Boss Aces & Ates brewed with Larry’s Beans in Raleigh, Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter brewed with Dynamite Roasting in Black Mountain and Lonerider Pistols at Dawn brewed with Joe Van Gogh in Durham.
What is it that so tightly unites the coffee and beer cultures and communities? Other than brewing with actual beans to achieve true coffee aromas and flavors beyond those imparted by heavily-roasted malts, consider these similarities I observed last Friday between the two artisinal fields:
* Like the majority of beers, coffee beans are meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible. Their characteristics begin to fade immediately after roasting, and they are best consumed within four to six months in their unground state.
* The Counter Culture crew appeared to be excited because this particular cupping was the “first showing” of some of these beans to the public. Remind you of a new beer release?
* Coffee beans are often bought in “lots,” and the same beans may greatly differ among different lots, much like the same beer may differ from batch-to-batch.
* One of the more trendier coffee cultivars on the market is Bourbon [pronounced “boor-BONE”]. I seem to recall aging beer in Bourbon barrels being the “it” thing lately. (I make this point in jest…kind of.)
* Like the American Homebrewers Association/Beer Judge Certification Program Beer Scoresheet, we filled out a “cupping form” with notes indicating “type,” “aroma,” “flavor,” “body,” “aftertaste” and a few coffee-specific characteristics like “break” (the smell immediately after gently stirring the floating coffee grinds).
We left Counter Culture that day extremely enlightened by the world of sourcing, roasting, storing, brewing and tasting, and the previously mentioned similarities between our world of beer and their world of coffee are just a drop (or drip) in the bucket.
It goes without saying that like the beer community, the coffee community also has its geeks. After the experience at Counter Culture and further research (I’ll admit to subscribing to several coffee-related blogs, twitter accounts and instagram accounts afterward), this is one geek that may start double-fisting with two seemingly different, but still very related, drinks.