What Coffee Should Go in My Beer?

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Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Augustino Brewing Podcast, where we talk about the business of brewpubs, as well as great coffee, great food and great beer. Today, we’re going to address something that’s near and dear to my heart, as a guy who loves his craft coffee and loves his craft beer and loves brewing beer with coffee, which is really what coffee should go in my beer?

We hear a lot about these great coffee beers that are out there. There’s wonderful porters, wonderful stouts, wonderful even IPAs out there that are utilizing coffee in beer, but I think that there are some real distinct advantages that are being missed by a lot of places that are just putting in whatever coffee is available into their beer rather than thinking fully through what coffee should go into their beer. You can do this either at a commercial scale or you can certainly do this at a small scale. I recommend that you consider what coffee is actually going into your beer.

One of the things that’s interesting about coffee, craft coffee and craft beer, and the tasting of craft beer and craft coffee, is that many of the same words and descriptors that are used when tasting high-quality, or maybe even low-quality, craft beer is also used when evaluating and tasting craft coffee. We’re utilizing the same language, and that allows us to leverage these two beverages, these two items together with making beer. It makes sense that craft beer and craft coffee are coming together in a wonderful beverage of a coffee beer.

Along those lines, cupping coffee and sampling beer really are very similar in terms of the process that we go through and the sensory experience that we go through. More often that not, we’re looking for the same attributes in both cases. There’s one big difference that I’ll call upon in terms of the coffee side of things, in particular, which is with coffee, often times, bitterness and sour characteristics tend to be generally frowned upon in a cup of coffee versus … Beers, of course, we love to have bitter characteristics. Sour beers are taking off gangbusters right now.

I think that in terms of the use of use of coffee in craft beer, that thought process might be changing a little bit. You can potentially have a bitter coffee, or a coffee that’s brewed to the point that it’s maybe not overly sour, but has a little bit of a sour edge to it, that may, in fact, work even better with your beer than a perfectly made coffee beverage.

There are a lot of considerations that you want to have when using craft coffee in craft beer. It’s actually very similar to when we’re talking about beer and food. Some of those things are the time and the manner in which the coffee is being added to the beer. There are a number of points at which coffee can be added when you’re making beer. The first of those points is just brew up a regular pot of coffee, or pots of coffee, depending on the size of the beer that you’re making, and just add it in. I’ve done this before. It’s not my preferred method these days, but it can be done, and it does work. You can add it right before fermentation. You can add it at the end of fermentation. If I were to put in my two cents on it, you generally are going to want to add it at the end of fermentation.

Of course, making sure that the coffee that you’re adding has not got any bacterial infections or any problems in there. You want to be very careful about that, but the better way in my opinion of adding coffee to beer is to actually have the grounds ground very course and adding them to the beer after primary fermentation when the beer is most actively fermenting. If you add the coffee too early, many of the aromatics will actually be driven off by the yeast activity in the beer. You want to avoid that.

You want to think about the elements of the coffee bean that you’re deciding to use and asking yourself, “Are the attributes of this going to balance my beer or enhance an aspect of my beer?” That’s always a consideration. If it is a very earthy kind of beer. It might not work in an American style beer, but a European style beer, that earthiness in a certain coffee bean might be very welcome.

You want to think about how long and how much that coffee bean has been roasted, is it a lighter roast or is it a darker roast, and what that’s going to do to your final beer. Some of the lighter beers that are getting coffee added to them these days tend to have a very blonde roast to them. You still get some of that roasted character across without it coming across really harsh and also without having it darken your beer too much, which is an issue with a lighter beer.

You also want to make sure that you’ve done your homework and worked with a roaster on creating the perfect roast for your coffee. If you, yourself, are not an expert at roasting coffee, you need to find that expert. That’s what will help you gain the edge over other brewers is making sure that you’re really honing in and creating the right coffee that will bring out the right attributes in the beer that you’re producing. Even though a good roasty coffee might be fantastic in a stout and in a porter, you want to look for those more subtle elements because that’s what makes a good beer a great beer. I would highly recommend that you think about that and consider that and consider working with a really good local roaster on putting together a coffee bean that has the right profile that’s going to meld well with your beer.

As I alluded to earlier, pairing beer with coffee is very similar to pairing beer with food. You want to make sure you’re reviewing your roaster’s notes to determine those key attributes or, as I mentioned before, speak with a coffee roaster on creating the perfect roast that’s going to pull out the right attributes that will meld well with your beer. For example, if there’s chocolatey elements in your coffee bean, maybe you dial back some of your malt or shift some of your malt in a porter and don’t put in as much chocolate malt into it. Similarly, look for whether there are fruit elements and what those look like. Is it a bright coffee bean? Is it earthy? All of these things come into play when deciding to use it in a beer.

Secondly, you want to make sure you’re starting with just a little bit of coffee in a batch and then work your way up in terms of volume. Part of that is to save money because coffee is very expensive. Then part of it is also to … It’s always best to go small before you go big in terms of your flavors because you can do too much with any spice and with any additive including coffee. Experimentation is really important. Finally, when the coffee is in contact with the beer, you want to taste it off until you get to where it’s right. That’s the basics of putting coffee into beer. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more episodes.

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