Earlier this week—on February 15th—beer-and-coffee loving New Yorkers were treated to a taste of the Midwest when Jonathan Moxey of Perennial Artisan Ales and Scott Carey of Sump Coffee—both out of St. Louis, Missouri—came to The Well in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The purpose of their visit? To engage with both casual and studious beer drinkers alike over their collaboration coffee stout.
We’re not just talking about a meet-and-greet over fresh kegs of a notable beer; this relatively informal tasting event was a little more educational and a little more hands-on than your average chug-a-lug. The brewer/roaster pair, along with staff from local distributors Remarkable Liquids, brought samples of the unblended stout and cold brewed Sump coffees for attendees to mix themselves, giving them a peek into the decision-making process behind creating a coffee stout ale.
For the beer nerds, Moxey was on hand to answer brewing questions and supply the crowd with details on the boozy half of the collaboration. Perennial brews a single base stout that isn’t intended for retail consumption. Instead, it’s brewed to be an ingredient that’s barrel aged, spiced, or in the case of Sump Coffee Stout, combined with coffee in about a seven-to-one ratio and then sent out to be enjoyed by Perennial’s fans. Moxey wasn’t shy with details on the stout, either. Like the fact that it’s the most difficult beer they brew, and that it starts at 30 plato and ends up at 12—meaning there are a slew of fermentable sugars available for the yeast to spit out a 10.5% ABV heavy-hitter. Moxey also emphasized that some of the traditional “coffee” flavors drinkers may encounter such as roasty or bitter notes are actually from the beer. And in fact it’s the coffee that brings the gentler subtleties to the stout.
On the coffee side, Carey gave the crowd an overview of coffee selection, brewing, and tasting for the purpose of making a beer blend. He talked a bit about his roasting profile, touching on the lighter, first crack roasting we know and love aimed at oil retention and nuanced flavors, and the cold brew method using a Toddy. He spoke at length about the two cold brewed coffees he brought for the attendees to blend: a washed Colombian from the COMEPCAFE collective and a natural process Costa Rican from Finca Las Lajas. Carey highlighted differences in cherry processing as well as the flavor profiles from each coffee, and how the beans get selected for the final stout. Their partnership is truly collaborative; Perennial trusts Carey to narrow down the coffee options and roast the coffee his way.
When it’s time to put the beer together (usually early to mid-December) Carey organizes a cupping with the Perennial brewers using 200 gram samples from lots and lots of micro-lots. After cupping, the group will start blending, and come up with a short list of the coffees they’d like to use in the final product, though the final selection will often depend on whether they can get enough beans. This is the third year Perennial has joined forces with Sump to make the eponymous stout, and each year the production has grown, narrowing the array of coffees they can get enough of with which to make the beer. This year Carey roasted one thousand pounds to be cold-brewed for Perennial’s use.
In the latest vintage 2016 Sump Coffee Stout, the Colombian coffee made the cut for its straightforward, gentler profile. But the team also brewed a variant using a washed Burundi (which fortunately was on hand at the bar for comparison). It’s almost like the B-side remix for the fans, except it serves to highlight how both coffees compliment the base beer. By releasing an alternate version of the coffee stout to the public, the team can “help beer drinkers understand what the coffee brings,” Carey told us. It was to further that end that Carey brought along the Costa Rican for on-the-spot blending, showing what a dynamic, bright, and rich natural process bean with a little fermentation could add to the beer. Experiencing the beers “side by side emphasizes how big an impact the coffee can have.” His focus on consistent roasting means the only variables for flavor will be from the beans themselves.
Where some stouts are brewed to be aged, building a richer, smoother flavor over time, Moxey and Carey warned the crowd that this stout was meant to be imbibed as soon as possible due to the delicate nature of the coffee. Over time, the coffee’s subtleties would die down, leaving the late drinker bereft of some of the smooth chocolate and dried fruit from the Colombian bean. So don’t go cellaring this one, collectors.
You can catch the Perennial/Sump combination this coming weekend at coffee beer classic Uppers & Downers in Chicago; Carey himself will be at the first session, and the Perennial team will have the base stout to blend with more Costa Rican coffee. Sump Coffee Stout will also be available soon (if not already) at craft beer bars in Perennial’s distribution footprint across the great and beer-rich American Midwest.
D. Robert Wolcheck is a Sprudge contributor based in New York City. Read more D. Robert Wolcheck on Sprudge.