Thinking Outside the Box,
and Inside the Bottle
By Alexis Rubinstein
The combination of caffeine and alcohol is creating quite the buzz. Coffee and beer and this unassuming flavor combination is providing coffee roasters with a basically uncharted channel…and an excuse to drink on the job.
It used to be
that coffee roasters would see their product in limited forms. Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos would be the basic extent, and maybe a blended iced beverage if you were really lucky. Today, however, coffee is becoming less of a caffeine fix and more of a palette pleaser as consumers begin to appreciate the taste and characteristics that a good cup has to offer. In light of the recent mainstream coffee appreciation, the “morning beverage” is being added to everything from candies to barbeque sauces. One of the more noteworthy combinations is the new phenomenon of coffee beer - a marriage between two robust flavors that work harmoniously to create a pint with a kick.
It seems to be an ideal pairing. Not only do certain beers lend themselves perfectly to the different notes in coffee, but the relationship between the coffee roaster and the brewer couldn’t be more compatible. Both roast and brew “masters” are artisans. The processes of roasting coffee and brewing beer, regardless of scale, are crafts. Micro-roasteries and micro-breweries usually have a local following, many times with strong ties to the community. A joint venture between these two industries, coffee beer is a new outlet for roasters to explore, an exciting beer variety for breweries to offer and a lucrative decision for all.
The Perfect Partnership
If I’ve done my job successfully, you are already convinced that expanding your roasting business into the alcoholic beverage sector is a wise decision. But now where to begin? While some roasters may be fortunate enough to be propositioned by a brewery, if this is truly something you are interested in undertaking, you may have to get out there and recruit a partner yourself. The most successful products stem from the most symbiotic partnerships. Therefore, if you have a favorite brewery, this would be a good place to start. Familiarize yourself with their selections, so when you approach the brewmaster with your idea for a coffee beer, you could have specific suggestions. “I think you’re porter would go wonderfully with my French roast,” could be a great “pick up line.” It is crucial to taste all their beers (just another tough day at the office) and enjoy the taste even before the coffee is added - if you start with a good product, it will ensure quality through to the end result.
Location of the brewery and their facility is also something to consider. Teaming up with a nearby company will promote community ties, strengthen the local economy and could be used as a selling point for the finished product: “Salt Lake City’s best coffee and beer together in one cup.” Keep in mind, that while your coffee will just be an ingredient in the beer, the visibility will still increase your brand recognition so the quality must not be sacrificed. A close proximity between the roastery and brewery ensures that the freshest roasted and ground coffee can make it into the mix. Peace Coffee, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota is quite proud of their Java Stout. Because the facility where the beer is made is so close, “the fresh coffee is delivered to the brewery in ground form, and by bicycle,” says Keith Tomlinson. Peace Coffee’s eco-friendliness was important to maintain, even with this new endeavor. Mike Hoops of Town Hall Brewery also in Minneapolis, the brewery producing Peace Coffee’s Java Stout, accredits the successful relationship between the two companies to similar ideologies. “Local search led us to a roaster that had similar ideals and a great product,” he explains. “I have found that in relationships like these, the financial aspect seems to work out if you have found the right person/business.” Joe Short, of Shorts Brewing in Bellaire, Michigan echoes Hoop’s sentiment. Shorts Brewing has teamed up with Higher Grounds Trading Company in Traverse City, Michigan to create a Coffee Stout. “We looked for local, personal and high quality coffee,” reveals Short. “We worry about the financing last and the quality first.”
While brand expansion, local collaborations and just plain fun are legitimate reasons for creating a coffee beer, none are as honorable as philanthropy. In the case of the Coffee Oatmeal Stout, a collaboration between the Good People Brewing Company and Primavera Coffee, both located in Birmingham, Alabama, the decision to brew a coffee beer was purely selfless. “Jason Malone, the brewer at Good People, generously offered to collaborate with my group, Free The Hops (www.freethehops.org), on a special release,” says Danner Kline with the organization. “He specifically requested that the recipe be an original creation of someone in Free The Hops. I’m an avid homebrewer, so I stepped up to the plate. The decision to do a coffee oatmeal stout was mine. I wanted to go that direction because there are no other coffee oatmeal stouts sold in Alabama, and it’s a very interesting style. I also live less than a mile from Primavera and am friends with Brett Burton (owner), and I knew he appreciated good beer and would find the project interesting.” A portion of the proceeds from the Coffee Oatmeal Stout are donated to the Free the Hops organization as a “token of our appreciation/support for a cause that we believe is ‘fighting the good fight,’” adds Jason Malone of the Good People Brewing Company. Working with Primavera Coffee seemed like a natural move for Malone, who prides himself on his “true local brewery.” “I’ve often said before, what good is having a local brewery that doesn’t do things…well, locally?”
The relationship between the Schafly Brewery and Kaldi’s Coffee in St. Louis, Missouri, existed way before talks of their Coffee Stout ever began. “The guys from Kaldi’s were the ones with the great idea of making a coffee beer,” tells Mitch Turner from Schafly’s. “We were already a customer and, in fact, they made (and continue to make) a special house blend of coffee for our pubs. While we do not use that blend in our beer, it was the starting point for our relationship. We are big fans of Kaldi’s and we have a lot of similarities with them - we are both small, local, traditional and highly product-focused.”
If you have no previous agreements with local pubs and you are now stumped racking your brain for a local brewery that can make this vision a reality, perhaps putting down the yellow pages and cracking open your family tree is a better idea. Jon Bloostein, owner of the Heartland Brewery in New York City, and his brother Oren Bloostein of Oren’s Daily Roast, also in New York, could think of no reason not to bring together their respective companies to create Oren’s Daily Porter. Kelly Taylor, brewmaster at the Heartland Brewery, affectionately calls the brother’s collaboration a “no-brainer.” “Plus, it was convenient to get to,” he continues. “Immediately after the coffee is roasted and ground it can be thrown on the back of a truck and driven to Brooklyn to be added to the beer.” Oren’s Daily Roast and the Heartland Brewery also donated $1 for every pint of Oren’s Daily Porter to the International Rescue Committee in their ongoing efforts to provide clean and safe water (among many other projects) to the people of Ethiopia.
The Exacts of Experimentation
“There aren’t many beer styles that go well with coffee,” Danner Kline of the Good People Brewing Co. explains, “so the choice of brewing a stout was pretty self evident.” “Stout beer and coffee actually have a lot in common, even when they are not combined. Stouts are brewed with dark roasted barely, just as coffee beans are dark roasted. So many stouts naturally have a coffee flavor that derives solely from the barely used in brewing. Adding actual coffee on top of that is an easy fit.” After Kline decided which type of beer would be the right fit for the Good People Brewing Company’s coffee beer, they were left with the challenge of choosing the right coffee. “We did a tasting featuring a few of Brett’s coffees (Primavera Coffee) and several varieties of hops provided by me.” They used the standard coffee cupping procedure, but added a hop pellet in with the coffee grounds. “We tried six different hop varieties in each of three different coffees for a total of 18 different flavor profiles,” tells Kline. “The hops were Saaz, Willamette, Kent Goldings, Simcoe, Cascade and Northern Brewer. The coffees were Ethiopia Harrar, Brazil Daterra Reserve and Peru Norte - all selections made by Brett and his crew based on their estimations of what would work well in an oatmeal stout. The results were astonishing. Out of 18 different cups, each one had a remarkably different flavor. Some combinations worked very well; some were awful. Northern Brewer was horrible throughout. It clearly just doesn’t pair with coffee, period. Good to know. The most quintessential Pacific NW American hops in the group - Cascade and Simcoe - were ok, but they dominated too much. As Brett put it, the selections with Cascade in them didn’t really taste like coffee, they tasted like beer.”
“I wanted a combination with flavors that complimented each other; I didn’t want the coffee to be completely overwhelmed by the hops,” Kline continues. “The remaining three hops each had one coffee they worked particularly well in. Kent Goldings paired best with the Ethiopian Harrar. Saaz paired best with Brazil Daterra Reserve and Willamette paired best with Peru Norte. Oddly, the combination of Saaz and Peru Norte tasted like latex paint (no thanks!). We then took the best hops/coffee combos and dosed them into a commerical oatmeal stout (Samuel Smith’s) to see which worked best. We ultimately decided that Willamette hops and Peru Norte coffee tasted best in an oatmeal stout. I then put together a pretty standard oatmeal stout recipe, except that I included a lot more hops than you’d normally find in the style. I knew I could go heavy on the hops because we’d tested the perfect hops/coffee combination and a very forward hop flavor would work well.”
Similar to Primavera Coffee and Good People Brewing Company’s process, an oatmeal stout was also selected by Schafly for their coffee beer with Kaldi’s Coffee. Mitch Turner describes the Schafly oatmeal stout as having “a good roasty bitterness with hints of coffee and chocolate and is a big, creamy, full-bodied beer. By adding coffee, we amplifly some of the flavors already present in the beer and dramatically change the balance of the stout.” As for the coffee, “It was a pure collaboration,” says David Fitterling of Kaldi’s. “We certainly cupped a lot of coffees, but it was pretty obvious that the darker roast would be more appropriate for the project. The question was, ‘how dark?’ As coffee people, I think you’d find us hard pressed to admit a love for dark roasts. That said, we needed something fairly dark to match the oatmeal stout the brewer was bringing to the project. We also really wanted to offer a fairly traded, organic coffee to add to the social value.” The process is unique: incorporating the flavor of Kaldi’s coffee into the beer through a cold extraction method. “Fair Trade organic Kaldi’s French Roast is finely ground (using a piece of lab equipment called a ‘ro-tap sieve’ to monitor the consistency of the grind) and soaked in filtered, cold, deoxygenated water for two days to bring out the coffee’s rich flavor and characteristic aroma. This ‘cold toddy’ is then pressed from the ground coffee and injected into finished Schafly Oatmeal Stout just prior to bottling/kegging.” The result of this “iced coffee beer” is said to be clean, smooth and full.
Kelly Taylor, brewmaster also decided which of The Heartland Brewery’s beers he wanted to use first and then matched the Oren’s Daily Roast coffee. “It was a collaborative effort,” tells Oren Bloostein. “In conversation with the [Taylor] I learned of the profile they wanted to achieve in the final brewed product. They were especially interested in retaining the coffee aroma that is not often present in the beers they had tasted. It was done totally by analyzing the process and figuring out when to introduce the coffee into the beer to achieve the objective. Kelly reviewed the process in great detail to me and we decided on first introducing the coffee into the process at the outset and then tasting the product before it was finished to decide if another infusion would be necessary. It turned out not to be. Since aroma was a key factor in what they wanted to present in the product - I used the Colombia since it is one of the most aromatic of coffees, and has enough acidity and flavor to cut through the heavy flavor of the porter style beer this was going to be. [Taylor] knew what amount would be appropriate for the size batch he would be brewing.”
The Java Stout, by Peace Coffee and the Town Hall Brewery, was created because “brewers love both coffee and beer,” admits Hoops. “The flavor components have many similarities.” The echoing nutty, roasted, caramel, chocolate and “even lemon flavors” of the two beverages were strategically combined. “We initially met with the roaster at Peace Coffee for cuppings to better understand coffee. Then designed a recipe trying to marry the malted grain and coffee aromas and flavors. Usage was determined by ‘dosing’ a small amount of beer with a small amount of cold press coffee until the desired flavor was met. Then, simple mathematics gave us the formula…yes, brewers use math,” jokes Hoops.
The Mayan Magic Espresso Blend from Higher Grounds Trading Co. was the coffee chosen to be added to Short’s Coffee Stout. Chris Treter, co-owner of Higher Grounds Trading “thought going with a dark strong coffee with a full body and rich chocolate notes would work best.” Joe Short agreed. “I built a burley stout recipe and basically added a bunch of coffee and lactose into it,” tells Short of his experiments. “The coffee is finely ground and employed into the brewing at four different times: during the mash, prior to sparging/lautering, during the whirlpool of the wort and post fermentation.”
Better for Business
In some cases, the coffee beer will be bottled and sold, providing a new opportunity for branding and logo placement. “Schafly has promoted Kaldi’s on the bottle neck and with an insert in each case promoting the relationship and the quality of the product,” says Fitterling. “If you look closely at the case, 6-pack and various graphic elements through the packaging, you’ll notice Kaldi’s distinctive swirls, dancing goats and colors.” Fitterling also states, “there is mention of Fair Trade on the bottle neck.” The Bloostein brothers also ensured both companies are recognized for their quality products. “We are prominently labeled,” says Oren Bloostein. “The beer is called ‘Oren’s Daily Porter’ and a version of my logo appears on pint glasses used during the promotion.” If the coffee beer is not bottled and sold, there can be other ways of associating your roastery with the beverage. The Good People Brewing Co. and Town Hall Brewery keg their beer, eliminating any sort of packaging or labeling. However, the coffee used and the roastery can still be visible. “Our company is mentioned as part of the beer’s description as it is listed on the menu,” says Tomlinson of Peace Coffee.
After your brand is associated with coffee beer, it is a strong possibility that other brewers will look to you provide the key ingredient. Now is the time you must decide if your relationship with a brewery will be an exclusive one. In most instances, it is safest to keep all options open. “The relationship is not exclusive,” tells Oren Bloostein of the Oren’s Daily Roast and the Heartland Brewery collaboration. “But we are brothers and anything that might infringe on the product we originally produced I would not want to be a part of. I would do the same for any customer, but especially this one. Frankly, I do not see big potential as far as lucrative long-term supply to the brewing industry of high quality fresh coffee for the use in beer. Not because it doesn’t work, because it works extremely well, but because the beer does not require much coffee to be well flavored. It may surprise some people, but a pint of beer is much cheaper to product than a cup of good coffee. At least it surprised me when I first learned about the production.” That small coffee to beer ratio, could explain the relatively low amounts of caffeine in these beverages.
Unfortunately, most of the coffee beers being offered are seasonal products. Because of the heavier taste and body of the beers used, they seem to be most popular in the fall and winter months. Although you may seem the Heartland Brewery come out with a lighter Oren’s Daily Roast-inspired beer for the warmer months. “Maybe in the spring I’ll lighten it up a bit, maybe use a lighter beer with less coffee,” brainstorms Taylor. Good news for those who don’t want to wait till next fall for an exciting new partnership. “I think collaboration is essential for any business to succeed,” says Fitterling of Kaldi’s Coffee. “We are a better company for this project - we know more about our product; have a deeper respect for another artisan process; have more fun. I think, particularly during an economic downturn, it’s essential to reach out to like-minded organizations and develop synergies.”
Tea & Coffee - February, 2009
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