Beer and Coffee: The Best of Both Worlds, with Prairie Artisan Ales – Part 1

On Lightyear we exhibit just how complex coffee is, from its composition to how it may be processed or roasted. The possible flavor and appearance outcomes of a brewed cup of coffee are seemingly endless. It’s much the same with beer. From ingredient sourcing, to chemistry, to fermentation, brewing beer is a maze of artistry, experience, trial and error, and hard science ...

For beer or coffee geeks, like us, we want to know as much as possible about the beverage in front of us and there’s no shortage of stories to tell when it comes to such recipes and processes, which makes beer and coffee combinations double the fun.

And yet, combining beer and coffee is not as straightforward as just mixing the two components.  There is actually a wide spectrum of ways to partner beer with coffee. 

And, certain beers are more likely candidates than others to be paired with coffee. With sincere apologies to real beer aficionados who may find this description insufficient, think of beers as divided into two major buckets: ales and lagers.  Ales can run from the light, bright side (Belgians, pale ales), or to the dark side (stouts, porters).  Stouts and porters tend to have roasty notes and exhibit heavier bodies, which at a high level would make them complementary candidates for roasted coffees.  

Lagers can also be light or dark, with types such as bocks, dunkels, and pilsners all part of the lager family. 

For Part 1 of this two-part post, we looked at 11 beer and coffee combinations, and as we expected, the number of different methods and outcomes in this group was extraordinary, as proof that there’s not just one way to combine beer and coffee. 

One important pattern did emerge: the vast majority of the beers were dark ales – stouts and porters.  And as we said above, this makes a lot of sense, as the roasty notes of stouts and porters should go quite well with any number of roasted coffees.

Some other considerations we were reviewing as we conducted this survey: how much information was presented on the bottle, or on the brewery’s website, about the coffee itself?  Would we be able to find out the name of the roaster? The origin? The roast? The method (aging, infusing, fermenting, etc)? With all the nuance and richness of coffee, how much information would the brewery choose to highlight to the consumer? Would these beers feature any additional spices or flavorings as a complement to the coffee?

Here are just 11 options that we found (we were not compensated by any of these breweries to include their beers on this list):  

  1. Kentucky Coffee Barrel Stout (8% ABV) by Lexington Brewing & Distilling in Lexington, KY. Stout aged with Alltech Café Citadelle Haitian coffee. 
  2. Cold Brew Brig Mocha Stout (6.8% ABV) by Springdale Beer Company in Framingham, MA. Infused with locally-roasted coffee.    
  3. Java Cask (14.3% ABV) by Victory Brewing Company in Downington, PA. American-Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels, with local Pennsylvania-roasted coffee.     
  4. Mocha Mocha (11% ABV) by Foundation Brewing Company in Portland, ME. Imperial Milk Stout brewed with milk sugar and fermented with coffee beans, as well as cacao and vanilla.
  5. Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout (8.3% ABV) by Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI. A “Breakfast Stout”, made with coffee from nearby Ferris Coffee and Nut, based in Lansing, MI.
  6. CBS (11.7% ABV) also by Founders. An Imperial Stout with coffee, and aged in maple syrup-bourbon barrels. 
  7. Toasted Coconut Cream Coffee Porter (6% ABV) by Amherst Brewing in Amherst, MA. A Porter using locally-roasted Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters Toasted Coconut Cream coffee.
  8. Coffee House Porter (6.2% ABV) by Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield, MA. A Porter using locally-roasted coffee from Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company based in Orange, MA.  
  9. Coffee Bender Oatmeal Brown Ale (5.5% ABV) by Surly Brewing Company in Minneapolis, MN. A Brown Ale with Minnesota-roasted Guatemalan coffee.   
  10. Mocha Joe’s Espresso Roast Porter (5% ABV) by Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company and Howler Brewery, which is located in Hatfield, MA. A Porter co-branded with the actual roaster.
  11. Allagash Barrel & Bean (9.6% ABV) by Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, ME.  A rare Golden Ale, blended first in bourbon barrels, then with cold brew coffee, using sun-dried Ethiopian beans, from Speckled Ax also in Portland.  

In these 11 examples we see a bit of everything: porters, stouts, ales, barrel-aging, infusions, fermentations. We also see a spectrum of information about the coffee itself, ranging from the roaster, the origin, and the roast, to not much information at all. As for taste, it’s all about what you’re looking for and what you like.  I love all things Allagash, but I personally wasn’t a fan of a bright Golden Ale paired with bright Ethiopian coffee.  I love darker, chocolatey porters and stouts with coffee, including the ones in this list.  The great thing about beer and coffee is because of the sheer variety in offerings, you can probably find something that you like.   

A few other notes about our list: 

#7 – This offering is the only one we saw that used a flavored coffee, instead of flavoring via separate ingredients.  In this case, toasted coconut-flavored coffee, instead of plain coffee plus toasted coconut. 

#9 – The choice of Guatemalan coffee here is interesting. As we’ve shown in a prior blog post, roasted Guatemalan coffee is extremely versatile. It can be a lot of things to a lot of people, with taste profiles all over the map, which makes it a very flexible coffee to lend to a brown ale. 

#10 – Here we have a new marketing angle by having a roastery co-brand the beer directly – not something we see a lot of

If a brewery is sampling multiple coffees and selecting one to feature in one of its brews, it stands to reason that at least some information about that coffee should be front and center. There’s a big overlap between the craft beer and craft coffee crowds, and both communities appreciate transparency about what’s in the beverage as well as the process of making it. Partnering with a local roastery is another great way for the brewery to show its support for the community.   

To conclude Part 1 of this post, there are some wonderful and bold options out there for coffee and beer combinations.  We look at coffee through a lens of innovation and pushing boundaries, and these breweries are right in that exploratory sweet spot. If you’ve previously dismissed these types of beers out-of-hand, try some out. They are all so different, you may very well not like them all, but maybe there’s one or two that really speak to your interests in both beer and coffee. 

In Part 2 of this blog entry, we’re going to talk to Prairie Artisan Ales, and sample one of their greatest productions, the Prairie “Bomb!”.  

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