Brewing Against the Grain: Coffee’s Unexpected, yet perfect fit

By Tiffany Lutke

There’s something about coffee in beer that just feels right. Craft beer and craft coffee are similar products. Both rely on balance and complexity in aroma and flavor. Both are steeped in tradition, yet are constantly undergoing innovations and new processes. They both bring people around a table and invite conversation. It makes sense to combine the two. 

We’ve seen many coffee porters and stouts, as the roastiness of the coffee blends well with roasted and dark malts in the beer. It’s a natural fit. But adding coffee to beer doesn’t have to be about matching those flavors with similar tastes. It can be about matching flavor intensities, making sure that one flavor isn’t overpowering the next and creating a unique and balanced result.Currently, brewers are going against the grain and showcasing coffee in styles of beer one might not expect. 

Dave Bergen, brewmaster and owner of Joyride Brewing Co. in Edgewater, recognizes both the traditional styles in brewing and also more inventive styles, like brewing beer with coffee. While Joyride brews a more conventional porter with coffee, they have also come out with the Wall White Stout as part of their innovative beer series, and as the name suggests, it’s not a dark beer. 

The Wall White Stout is similar to a bigger English pale ale in its balance and subdued hop character. It is aged on cocoa nibs for about two weeks, and then on whole Notorious coffee beans from Coda Coffee, conveniently located across the street. Bergen jokingly calls this process, “dry beaning” as a nod to the process of dry-hopping in beer, which is comparable to adding a large tea bag of hops to rest in the beer for a few days after it is done brewing.

In order to select the right coffee, the Joyride and Coda teams got together to participate in several cuppings, a process which evaluates the coffee at different stages. “Coffee is a lot like malt as it takes on different attributes depending on how you roast it. It’s all about finding that blend,” Bergen said. The dry-beaning method helps keep the color of the beer light as well, much different from pouring coffee directly into the brew. 

Tom Horst, owner of Crystal Springs Brewing Co. in Louisville, has also showcased innovation in brewing beer with coffee. They have done a more traditional coffee porter but have also released a Coffee Pale Ale and a Coffee Black India Pale Ale. Crystal Springs teams up with Paul’s Coffee and Tea just a few miles down the road. “I really enjoy working with Paul. He knows beer and he knows coffee, so we have a lot of fun,” Horst said. They use a cold-brewed method, which helps extract the smooth flavors of coffee into the beer but leaves out the harsher and bitter notes coffee can have. 

There are many brewers and roasters in Colorado teaming up to craft new combinations of beer and coffee all the time. “There are so many complimentary flavors, it makes for a really great marriage,” says Bergen. But don’t take his word for it. Check out one of these local breweries yourself. 

-Boulder resident Tiffany Lutke works with Upslope Brewing Co. and is usually stuck between a rock and a beer place.