How Coffee Can Make Beer Even Better

(Image credit: Fil.Al)

At first, coffee and beer might not seem like an obvious pairing. For most of us, coffee starts the day and beer indicates the end; a cup of coffee gets you going and a bottle of beer post-work tips your body into relax mode.

But in the drink world, coffee and beer have been developing a long-lasting relationship, with more and more brewers serving up beers with a hint of barista. We’re talking about coffee beers.

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that people in the craft beer world and people in the craft coffee world have one major thing in common: passion. Passion for their product and passion for the ingredients involved.

Interested in this every growing relationship between craft beer and craft coffee, I decided to talk to a beer expert, and a coffee lover, to learn exactly why coffee pairs so well with beer and why so many craft brewers love the combination. I asked my friend Les Stewart, coffee lover and head brewer at Trophy Brewing in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a little insight.

Beer & Coffee: The Tastes Go Together

First of all, brewing beer with coffee has to do with taste, and breaking the rules in the name of taste.

“While brewers can reach wonderful flavor combinations with the sprawling available varieties of hops, specialty malts and yeast, some flavors simply require reaching beyond Reinheitsgebot (the Bavarian purity law that requires beer be made only from traditional ingredients),” says Stewart. “It means kind of breaking the rules, and doing it with such a willing partner in crime as coffee just makes a lot of sense.”

Coffee Intensifies

Just like you may use coffee to intensify the flavor of a chocolate cake, brewers can use an untraditional ingredient like coffee to change the flavor of their beer. “A coffee addition can complement the roasted or chocolate flavors that roasted and dark malts bring to a porter or stout, expanding the depth of flavor in a way that isn’t achievable with malt alone,” says Stewart.

Where Did Coffee Beer Get Started?

So when did brewers start using coffee? Dig into the history of coffee beer, and you’ll find different versions on the origin of coffee beer. Some say it came from the home brewing community, others attribute it to the brewery New Glarus in Wisconsin. Regardless of where it originated, there’s no denying that in the beginning brewers were drawn to the similar flavor profiles of porters and stouts and coffee.

Hear the words “coffee beer” and you may immediately think of a coffee porter or espresso stout, but through working with all of the different flavors available in beer and coffee, nowadays, there are a whole lot more, creative, coffee beers out there.

“Typically beers that use larger amounts of roasted or heavily kilned grains like porters or stouts lend themselves to the similarly processed coffee bean, but brewers are finding new ways to break even this rule,” says Stewart.

How Does Coffee Get Into the Beer?

So how does a beer go from a regular beer to a coffee beer?

Coffee is most often incorporated into a beer in two ways. The first involves adding ground beans directly to the beer, either during the mash or in the fermentation stage. The other method involves cold brew.

“Cold brewed coffee is designed to minimize astringency and can be concentrated a way that will bring maximum flavor to the beer without diluting it,” says Stewart. “Once the coffee is cold brewed I like to add a volume of 4 to 8% of the total beer volume after the final fermentation stage is complete and just before the beer is carbonated prior to packaging. This gives me the opportunity to blend the addition to taste as the beer is effectively done, which is nice, and not always an option for brewing additions.”

3 Great Beers with Coffee

Now, let’s get to the real question that I know is one everyone’s minds: can you make your own coffee beer? If you’re a home brewer, then yes! There are plenty of resources out there to get you started.

But even if you’re not going to start making your own coffee beer at home, if you’re looking to turn your love of coffee into a love of coffee beer, here are three of Stewart’s favorites to get started: