Your intrepid liquor reporter was sampling the wares at the Calgary International Beer Festival last week, when a particular brew style caught my eye.
After being offered a coffee-infused beer by five different brewers, it occurred to me that this might just be the next big thing. After all, people who drink beer usually also drink coffee, so why not enjoy them at the same time?
Brewers have known for decades that using unmalted roasted barley during the mashing process will add subtle notes of coffee flavours to the finished beer, which is why many porters and stouts may remind you a wee bit of your morning cuppa joe.
However, the beer marketeers of today are anything but subtle, so we are seeing new beers on the market that explicitly pitch themselves with coffee beans in the list of ingredients.
Interestingly, it seems to have been the homebrew market that championed the marriage of coffee and beer, and the fruits of those labours are now making it into the commercial breweries. Your humble narrator has tried his hand at infusing his homebrew with freshly ground Costa Rican coffee beans, and the resulting coffee porter was a big hit at my last BBQ.
Provincial liquor authorities take a somewhat dim view of caffeinated booze, likely because of the bad reputation earned by the frat-bros who chug Vodka and Red Bull highballs, so the brewers tread carefully to avoid being tarred with the same brush.
Brewmasters have a few options in the production process, from aging the beer on ground coffee beans, to blending cold coffee during bottling, or even adding coffee directly to the boiling wort.
One of the oldest brews in this style is the Midnight Sun Espresso Stout, from Yukon Brewing. Your intrepid liquor reporter recalls quaffing this way back in 2003, when the first small batches arrived in Alberta.
The recipe came from a local coffee shop owner who was making her own homebrew recipes blending stout beer with espresso beans. She soon approached Yukon Brewing to propose scaling up the recipe, and the rest is history.
Made with eight different malts, the beer is full-bodied, with enough hops and roasted barley notes to remind you that you are drinking coffee-flavoured beer, rather than beer-flavoured coffee. Midnight Sun Espresso Stout is available only in Alberta and the Yukon, so the other provinces are definitely missing out on this one!
The Montreal-based Dieu du Ciel brewery has a coffee-infused stout beer called Péché Mortel, which translates to Mortal Sin for the anglos in the audience.
Weighing in at 9.5% ABV, this is an imperial-strength stout beer, infused with fair trade espresso during the brewing process, for an intense flavour bursting with dark roast malts and bitter coffee. Definitely not a beer for pounding all night, but a tasting experience to savour with a friend.
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel opened as a brew pub in Montreal way back in 1998, but were so popular that they had to pivot their business model to that of a microbrewery, just to meet the booming demand for their products both in Montreal and across the country.
Today, Dieu du Ciel (Good Lord to you anglos) operates two pubs in Montreal, and distributes their wares across the country, as well as to Europe, South America, and Australia.
Looking west to BC, Fernie Brewing has a limited release brew called Java the Hut Coffee Milk Stout, made with lactose for a creamy finish, as well as generous amounts of coffee beans and even a pinch of chocolate.
The lactose milk sugars make the brew extra smooth and silky, but it is only a limited release, so you’ll have to look carefully for it at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant!
My favourite was the Excitation Espresso Stout from Victoria-based Category 12 Brewing. Blended with cold pressed coffee beans, the beer also spends time sitting on cacao nibs, which imparts notes of bitter chocolate on the finish, which is nicely balanced with the dark roasted malts that are typically used in stout beers.
Whatever your pleasure, these coffee beers tend to be more popular in the winter months. With the first days of summer just around the corner, market preferences shift to lighter beers more suited for long sunny days on the patio. Look for a coffee-infused beer now, while you still can!