Sprudge ❤️ coffee and Sprudge ❤️ coffee beer. You need only check the tag.
While both beverages have a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, their combination hasn’t always been a given; in fact, considering how much beer and coffee are brewed daily, it’s still relatively rare. Moreover, the origin story for blending coffee and beer is murky; their commercial combination in the US likely only goes back a few decades. It was still novel enough in the ’90s that it was treated as a fanciful side project for the characters on the Drew Carey Show (remember “Buzz Beer”?).
But of late combination has taken off, due to parallel growth of both cultures, from new wave coffee bars that focus on cup quality and clarity, to craft brewers pushing the limits of style and playing with a wide range of flavors, from botanical beers to barrel aging and milk solids. Nowadays, craft beer drinkers have almost come to expect their favorite local brewery will at some point at least make a coffee stout, although integrating coffee into other beer styles is becoming more common, with coffee saisons and farmhouse ales increasingly the focus at beer events like the annual Good Beer Hunting coffee beer festival, Uppers & Downers. Coffee beer even has its own category at the Great American Beer Festival—one of the largest and most prestigious beer festivals/competitions in the US.
When not fueling the brewers behind your favorite lagers and ales, coffee in the beer world is considered an adjunct—a non-essential ingredient, often added at or near the end of the brewing process. And with most beer adjuncts (and any coffee that isn’t consumed immediately after brewing), there’s a time limit to the flavor blooming as intended. It doesn’t go bad, it’s just not as expressive. Like any other means of extraction, it’s better fresher and not, say, a year down the road. Like all things in life, this isn’t a strict rule—plenty of coffee beers are aged and beloved by beer aficionados. For example, it’s not uncommon to see coffee variants on tap as special aged stouts (your author just had one from 2014 this past Black Friday at a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout release). But like most beers, and most coffee, fresher is better.
And just as a good cup of coffee depends on a long list of variables that need to be considered, integrating that same coffee beer requires a new set of key decisions. This includes not only coffee selection for flavor profiles and dosing volumes but when in the beer brewing process to add the coffee. Technically, coffee could be added at any point in the beer brewing process—the mash, the boil, the fermentation, or blended before packaging. Increasingly brewers are turning to blending cold brew, like Perennial Artisan Ale’s use of Sump Coffee, as featured on Sprudge earlier this year. But plenty of brewers are still extracting coffee’s compounds though steeping and heat; some are experimenting with using coffee like flavoring hops at the end of the process and “dry-hopping” (dry-beaning?) roasted coffee. The where, when, and how of coffee integration all depends on what the brewer is looking for in the resulting beer. Just as the same coffee will vary depending on the roaster and the brewer, coffee beers will vary depending on the brewer. As such we end up with a myriad of great coffee beers to try.
I’ve selected eight to highlight; we could have featured dozens more.
We should note that the product is not beloved by all. The Food & Drug Administration has raised concerns about the combination of alcohol and coffee—mostly in excessive, boozy energy drink levels—especially in the last decade of commercial success. And while we don’t want to tell you how to live your life, my editors insist I suggest you take it easy with trying out all the selections below; drinking to completion eight coffee beers in a row is not a recipe for a good time.
With that, here are eight coffee beers to keep an eye out for, either in their currently released iterations or future versions when next they’re brewed. Please note: not all of these beers are available year-round and in all geographical areas; reasonable shelf times will vary. These are our impressions; we encourage readers of legal drinking age to responsibly try these on their own if available.
And as craft beer continues to grow, we hope that our favorite breweries will start experimenting with different styles and techniques of integrating coffee. It’s a match made in heaven, or at the very least, the counter of your favorite beer bar.
(Beers are listed in increasing alcohol content, not ranked.)
This semi-opaque light brown/orange sour immediately hits you with an inviting roasted coffee aroma before even taking a sip. The coffee continues onto the palate alongside a tart, cooked fruit taste of berries and maybe even a little rhubarb. The roasted coffee flavor is big, but as your palate adjusts, the beer’s more dynamic notes start to show up, including a little lemony citrus flavor. It all culminates in a smooth, milky graham cracker finish from the lactobacillus used to make the beer sour. Think of something along the lines of a fruit tart baked with coffee. The result is a very approachable and surprising sour. While hyperlocal, it’s definitely a beer New York City area beverage nerds should try.
A washed Ethiopian coffee with traditionally floral, gentle flavors, most Reko is not meant to stand up to bold, roasty stout flavors. It was with this in mind that Mystic teamed up with George Howell to make a lighter take on a coffee beer earlier this year, blending 155 gallons of Howell’s roasted Reko coffee with a beer made from Mystic’s house saison yeast. The beer pours a beautiful hazy reddish brown; almost a true burnt sienna. The nose is active, alive, and aromatic, with some gently roasted coffee notes alongside hints of vanilla and saison spice. On the palate the coffee downright shines. The beer drinks crisp, with a tiny bite from the saison yeast; think more peppercorn than yeast esters. This melds with the coffee nicely. With the bitterness at a bare minimum, this beer showcases the coffee. On the palate, there’s a bit of citrus, some bright berries, and a little vanilla. A light, gentle body overall with plenty of welcoming flavor, none of which overpower the others. (For more on this beer, see here.)
Another in the Chicago brewery’s Predator series saisons, this light brown ale starts off with a slightly vegetal, peppery, gently spiced farmhouse nose with roasted coffee notes that don’t dominate. On the palate it’s light and smooth; the coffee integrates pleasantly with the rest of the beer, bringing some gentle fruit and a touch of roastiness and savor, rounding out the lighter pale ale qualities. The farm aspects are more fall harvest than petting zoo, making this an easy-drinking number. With the most common use of coffee in the beer world being stouts, coffee notes from a pale beer can be slightly surprising, but welcome.
Sorry US folks, this is going to be a hard one to come by stateside. But for our international readers, this Brazilian beer from São Paulo may be easier to find. The goal was to create a lighter take on the coffee stout while maintaining a more stout-like richness without overwhelming the coffee; they even added cocoa nibs and vanilla like other coffee stout brewers are wont to do. The first thing you see is a beautiful label with a lovely script and a nice coffee harvest motif with a nod to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, who supplied an organic, natural process Yellow Icatu coffee that was cold brewed for 13 hours and blended with the ale.
This big, bubbly ale pours a handsome reddish-orange and comes with lots of aromatic roasted coffee on the nose. It’s more golden than stout, but it’s rich on the palate, with a nice melange of fruit, bread, and coffee. No one flavor commands your attention, though the coffee never gets lost throughout the sip. A vegetal note common in lighter coffee ales peeks out from behind the roastiness, as does a hint of graham cracker on the malt side of things. While a majority of the coffee presence is in the roast in the nose, once the carb dies down and oxygen starts taking hold, you can find some berry-like cold brew notes.
Coffee Dino S’mores (10.5% ABV)
Off Color Brewing
Imperial stout with Sumatra Ibu Rumani from Metric Coffee
This variation on the beloved Dino S’mores stout (made with marshmallow fluff, vanilla beans, molasses, graham flour, and cocoa nibs) includes the addition of Ibu Rumani with the intent of expanding on the roastiness and smokiness of the base stout. The beer pours like motor oil and starts with a roasty nose. It drinks super smooth, in a well-blended version of the campfire favorite; albeit a bit drier than the loaded graham cracker you might be picturing. A little vegetal with a nice bitterness from the Nugget hops. The vanilla and marshmallow transport you back to childhood, but the coffee brings you back to the present.
Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (10.9% ABV)
Imperial stout with Vietnamese cà phê Chồn (traditionally)
Part of the Beer Geek stout series from this Denmark-based collaborative brewer, this iteration includes the continual conversation starter of Kopi Luwak coffee sourced from the diet of civets (the nominal “weasel”). Started as a novelty of sorts due to the expense of sourcing the coffee, Mikkeller acknowledged the potentially problematic nature of the coffee back in 2013, issuing a press release about their sourcing and the potential for switching to enzyme-treated coffee cherries. [A request to Mikkeller about their most recent sourcing was not returned as of press time].
Kopi Luwak isn’t remotely cool, but this beer is still pretty interesting. It pours coal black and has little in the way of dominant aromas. But once it hits your lips, you’re immediately hit with a rich berry-heavy sweetness that with the roasted malts hits like a Tootsie Pop. The coffee notes are gentle and not nearly as roasty as with other coffee stouts, allowing it to play nice with (and contribute to) the fruit flavors from the yeast esters. As it warms, the cherry and raspberry become more pronounced alongside the chocolatey, roasty coffee stout qualities.
If you have your choice of Mikkeller coffee beers, we definitely recommend you check out their Koppi IPA, a collaboration between Mikkeller, Shelton Brothers and Koppi. It’s hard to find but really delicious.
Selassie (11% ABV)
Imperial stout with Madagascar vanilla and Ethiopian coffee
Always novel but never a novelty, Stockholm brewer Omnipollo delivers another big imperial stout. Selassie pours very dark, very opaque black-brown with an inviting (though small) chocolatey brown head. One of the bigger beers on our list in terms of alcohol, this even smells imperial, with a cordial-like nose with some vegetal and coffee notes. On the palate, it’s instantly smooth and bold, with a big roasty presence from the malts and the coffee. Notes of dark chocolate shavings dominate at first, after which blueberry starts to emerge (if you don’t drink it too fast).
Mostly this beer is berries and chocolate all day, even more as your palate adjusts to the coffee. It’s earthy, but not burnt soil earthy; smooth mouthfeel, but you won’t forget about the alcohol in it. Rather than command attention, the vanilla takes a back seat, blending with the flavors. The bitterness is strong, though not in an over-extracted coffee grounds way; it’s much more appropriate for a beer and more along the lines of dark chocolate and hops. The flavors are nicely blended; no one is too big despite beer’s boldness. While by no means a tobacco-y Irish number, overall Selassie is surprisingly dry for an imperial stout.
Coal black and rich on the pour, this beloved and very popular oil slick stout from buzzy Oklahoma brewer Prairie Artisan Ales is immediately inviting for fans of dark beer. The coffee has a starring role (Nordaggios is on the label for this batch), but it’s only one in a list of big-name imperial stout adjuncts, all with spotlight potential including chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers. The coffee is first out the gate as the glass approaches your nose. But the moment it hits your palate, it’s clear that this beer is from an established, accomplished brewer making a well-blended, multi-adjunct stout. This syrupy, dense ale has a big dark chocolate flavor. But while the cocoa may be driving, everyone else is definitely in the car; the vanilla, coffee, and chocolate blend beautifully and the chilis bring a nice touch of closing heat on the palate. It’s almost greater than the sum of its parts. Rich, bold, thick, and almost herbal after a spell. At 13% ABV, you may want to share a bottle. There are worse ways to make a friend.