Posts Tagged coffee
I apologize for the lengthy and unexplained hiatus. Work got really busy, and then my whole family got sick one after the other. It’s the kind of situation that makes you want to grab a beer….
Anyway, I’m back and I have a couple things in the hopper.
This last weekend, I attended the sixth annual Tallahassee Brewfest. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend all but the fifth, and the event has grown to be quite a feast for the beer enthusiast.
All the usual suspects were there–Anheuser-Busch was pushing their “craft” brands, and InBev had their lineup of trendy imports. Brooklyn, Sweetwater and Rogue were represented, as they have had a local presence for a long time.
The real treat is the smaller up-and-coming local breweries, the craft brewers who are just moving into the market, and the homebrewers.
Swamp Head was there, with a broader selection of their beers than I had seen before. Midnight Oil was their standout, a coffee stout. I was oh-so-very close to voting them best in show for that beer. Coffee stouts and porters were very trendy–I sampled a dozen–and I think that by the end of the night, I was kind of over them. MO is a great beer though, and I’ll definitely be looking for it on tap. The gentleman representing Swamp Head was involved in the brewing there, and he was very happy to discuss recipes, ingredients and beer design philosophy, which was really good of him.
The beer I did vote for was Erie Brewing’s Railbender Ale. It was awesome, golden in color, with a ton of caramel malt. It was a coolish night, and a very fresh-drinking, flavorful beer, and it was just perfect for the occasion. It was sweet from that malt bill, so I don’t know how it would stand up to a hot summer day, but for wintertime drinking, it was exceptional.
The homebrewers mostly came from the North Florida Brewers’ League, and their beers were quite excellent. One of the fun things about homebrewing is that you can brew beer for you, without having to worry about whether it is particularly marketable. That tends to make homebrew a little bit avant garde, and that was the case at the Brewfest. There was some excellent creativity on display, and while not all tickled my palate, they were each skillfully crafted and fun to try. My favorite was a low-octane Belgian. They were very successful at getting the big flavor of a Belgian beer into a 5% alcohol package, and I was impressed. I may have to try that someday, because my classic 9-11% Belgians can be a bit much for many occasions.
One of the trends I’ve noticed at the Brewfest over the past 6 years is a movement away from ultra-hoppy beers. There are still plenty of IPA’s and Imperial this-and-thats for the hopheads, but there are more subtle beers, even very malty ones starting to work their way into the craft beer scene. I think this is great, not just because I’m not a hophead, but because a strong, earnest and diverse beer scene is good for everyone.
As near as I can tell, the use of coffee as an adjunct in beer is a pretty recent invention, and is mostly associated with the American craft brewing tradition. Despite their relative newness, coffee beers are not at all hard to find. Many craft brewers include one in their repertoire, and some of them are in widespread or national distribution.
Coffee typically adds a roast bitterness to a beer that is smoother and warmer than hop bitterness. Depending on the variety of coffee and how it is roasted, it can add toasty, nutty or burnt flavors as well. Because of these characteristics, and because coffee is quite dark, one usually finds coffee beers based on a dark ales. Almost all the ones I have seen have been stouts or porters.
The strength of the coffee flavor can vary widely. Some brewers use coffee for a hint of unique flavor. Kona Brewing Company’s delicious Pipeline Porter is an example. You can taste the coffee, but the drink is definitely a beer first. Other brewers let the coffee dominate the flavor, and use the beer ingredients to accentuate the coffee and provide the alcohol. Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale is a fine example of this approach.
If you like coffee and you like beer, you really owe it yourself to try some of these. They’re not hard to find, and almost any decent craft beer shop is likely to have a couple. (I can even get Kona at Wal-Mart!)
Coffee and homebrewing
One of the great things about homebrewing with coffee is that you can do it at any level of complexity. It works great with extract brewing, and with all-grain as well. All you really need to do is pick your favorite stout, porter or brown ale recipe, make a couple simple changes, and add the coffee.
The first thing to think about is that coffee is bitter, so you need to cut back on the hops. There’s no real formula here (it’s more art than science), but cutting back by a third is probably a good start if you’re shooting for a Kona-style beer, and by a half or more if you’re going in the Peak direction. You can keep your normal grain/extract load—the coffee isn’t going to affect your malt profile or your alcohol content. (For more advanced beer designers, I usually keep my IBU/Gravity ratio just above the extreme low end of what is typical of the style.)
Picking your coffee
Let’s talk a little about coffee roasting, and where the flavors in coffee come from. Coffee beans are actually the stone of a coffee berry, and they’re green when they are harvested and dried. Green coffee doesn’t taste very good, so the beans are roasted brown to black to provide the quintessential coffee flavor we all know and love.
Coffee has a lot in common with wine. There are many varieties, and the flavor is determined by the variety, the soil, the altitude and the care taken by the farmer and roaster in the production of the final product. Coffee has herbal, floral, nutty, woody and roasty flavors (among many others) and the specific combination depends on all the factors I just mentioned.
Arabica coffee is superior to robusta coffee, and in general, shade grown beans farmed at high altitude are of the highest quality.
The roast is essential to determining the flavor of the coffee. From lightest to darkest, roasts are roughly divided into light or cinnamon, medium or city, dark or Vienna, extra dark or French, and whatever travesty of roasting Starbucks inflicts on its beans.
Lighter roasts are more acidic, and preserve more herbal and floral flavors of the bean. Medium roasts tend to taste nutty because the floral chemicals have burned off. Famous varieties, like Kona, Jamaica Blue Mountain, Kenya AA, Tanzania Teaberry and Papua New Guinea Gold are roasted light or medium to preserve the unique flavor characteristics of those coffees. Dark roasts tend to taste warmly toasty, but retain only a few flavor elements unique to the bean. Extra dark roasts are more aggressively “black” in flavor. The ultradark roast of Starbucks blasts any uniqueness out of the bean, making any coffee roasted that way identical. This is an advantage to Starbucks—they can buy whatever beans they can get cheap without affecting the taste of the product. It doesn’t make good coffee for the consumer.
When picking a coffee for beer, go to a place that sells bulk coffee. Envision the flavor of the beer you want to make, smell and taste the beans, and pick the one that you see being the most delicious in your beer. Don’t be surprised if this is not the bean that is your favorite for making a cup of Joe! I make an awesome coffee oatmeal stout with Vienna roast beans because that’s what works with the malts in the stout. I drink a lighter, nuttier bean in my daily cup. (Though I think a Jamaica Blue Mountain Brown Ale would be awesome, and someday I will make one.)
How to brew with coffee
Once you’ve picked your coffee, and have your favorite dark beer recipe ready to go, brewing with coffee is super easy. I simply brew up the coffee in my coffee pot, let it cool and add the liquid coffee directly to my primary. In my coffee stout, the coffee is intended to be noticeable, but just one piece of the total flavor profile. It blends in with the dark malts to give a pleasant bitter edge to work with the oat smoothness. I use three pints in a 5-gallon batch to achieve that affect. If you want more coffee flavor, brew more coffee. (Note that the cups marked on the carafe of a coffee maker are 4-ounces, not the normal 8-ounce cooking cup. My 3 pints is the full contents of a “12-cup” coffee carafe.)
For the best flavor, you should use the beans as soon as possible after grinding them, and of course, the coffee should be fresh-brewed. (I make mine once my bittering hops are on the boil.) If you don’t have a home grinder so that you have to grind at the store, I recommend buying the bulk beans the day before you brew and storing the grinds in a Ziplock.
I have seen other homebrewers recommend adding the grinds in a fine mesh sack directly to the hop boil. There’s a couple reasons I don’t. Boiling water is actually a little too hot for ideal coffee flavor. You want 195-200 F. Second, if the grinds get out of the bag and wind up sitting in your beer for 3 weeks, you may find that you have extracted some unpleasant flavors. If you do want to use the coffee in the boil, add it with the aroma hops, and boil for five minutes.
After your coffee is in the wort, you treat it like any other beer. It’s not going to affect your yeast or fermentation at all. Follow your standard fermenting and bottling/kegging procedure and enjoy!