There were more ups than downs at the 2017 Uppers & Downers festival of coffee beers, an event about which I’ve written at length earlier today in hopes of capturing its caffeinated glory. But amidst the swirl of ales, six beers did verily stand out. A full list of participants can be found in the official programs, all of whom brought something worthy of the event. But we must play favorites from time to time in the name of journalism. And while I missed a few pours capturing the event (the three hour sessions flew by) here’s my six most notable beers poured at Uppers & Downers 2017.
This annual release (featured in Sprudge last year) from the powerhouse combo of Perennial Artisan Ales and Sump Coffee out of St. Louis did not disappoint this year, with an incredibly rich and smooth base imperial stout which integrated the coffee—a community lot coffee from Cauca in Colombia—beautifully. Almost immediately during the first session, a line formed at the Sump Coffee station, presumably for beer and coffee lovers alike to get a little face time with Scott Carey, who was on hand pulling shots (I queued up the instant I sipped it myself). The standard Sump was poured in session one with a variant using an alternate coffee (Ethiopia Adola naturally processed beans) in the second session.
Prairie Funky Bean
Known for coffee beers like Bomb! and variants like Coffee Okie, Prairie Artisan Ales brought something different—a foudre-aged (think big, conditioned oak barrels) wild-fermented ale (meaning they let existing, location-based yeast and bacteria do most or all of the heavy lifting for fermentation). This beer serves as a shape of things to come for Prairie, who will be looking to expand their wild ale program in the coming year. This handsome, reddish-hued ale was gently funky and tart, and served as a good example of a coffee (in this case a Spaceship Earth Coffee Company-roasted Costa Rican bean) complementing the overall profile of the beer. Hints of dark fruit baked in pastry dough popped up toward the end.
Hyper Predator & Coffee Dino S’mores
Off Color Brewing brought two of their coffee standard bearers to the event this year, providing a familiar stop on the tasting line (both were included in a recent rundown of coffee beers by your author). One of the rare instances of a single brewer working with multiple roasters (in this case Metric Coffee and Passion House Coffee Roasters in the two beers, respectively). Sometimes you don’t need something new on your palate; judging by how quickly the Coffee Dino S’mores ran out in the second session, fans in attendance familiar with the beloved stout would agree.
One Trick Pony Brewery, one of the smaller craft breweries pouring at the event out of Lansing, Illinois, brought a wildly dynamic sour (and a prime example of craft beer’s traditionally irreverent naming conventions). The lactobacillus finish kicks in super late after a nice, rich, mildly tart, farmhouse-like start that’s sour but not funky.
Seattle Cider Company
And it wasn’t just about the beer; we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how well coffee works with cider. The sweetness of the cider plays against the coffee in a fun way, pushing it past the fruitiness of something like a coffee IPA. Seattle Cider Company’s semi-sweet cider blended with a cold-brewed Costa Rican coffee from Fulcrum Coffee was a welcome diversion from the heavier, darker beers of the day. And what’s more, it was made with decaf—admittedly less upper, but there was more than enough to go around already.
Heavyweight Jitterfight Champion of the World
This Solemn Oath/Intelligentsia collaboration was a rich, bourbon barrel-aged heavy hitter whose flavors were so well integrated, you may not have been able to pull out the coffee notes if you weren’t paying attention (or if it were your last pour of the day). But the Ethiopia Kurimi coffee peeks through this aggressive ale style; it just doesn’t announce itself, like a casual-cool party guest.
One final note: this list pointedly excludes Goose Island‘s 3, 4, and 5-year aged pours of their Bourbon County Stout Coffee variant, which is too rare and unique an opportunity to not be considered separately. They were delicious, complex, and intriguing, providing a chance to both delight the palate and educate it on the subtle changes that can occur during the purposeful cellaring of quality beer.