Uppers and Downers: Coffee beer tasting at Intelligentsia Coffee

While sipping my green tea this morning (yeah, I know this is supposed to be about coffee but I like tea too. Now quite interrupting and keep reading.) my mind was reeling at how many different iterations and creative combinations of coffee and beer I got to taster last night. Uppers and Downers: a coffee beer tasting and panel discussion at Intelligentsia Coffee in Pasadena was organized by Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting and Intelligentsia Coffee to discuss and taste the past, present and future of coffee infused beers. In addition part of the evenings’ proceeds are being donated to the Keep a Breast Foundation. The evening was a full one with about 100 people turning out the event and squeezing into every space in the tiny coffee house. Racing from work to make the event I didn’t have time to stop and grab a bite to eat so I was delighted that there was some amazing charcuterie from Lindy and Grundy in West Hollywood (an awesome butcher shop, check them out) to snack on so all that beer wouldn’t go to my head. Michael Kiser set up the event to unfold with each brewery pouring their coffee beer then discussing what went into that beer with a panel discussion with all the brewery representatives discussing their methods for extracting the coffee essence into their beers.

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Here’s a listing of the breweries and their beers from last night:

Eagle Rock Stimulus: ERB Co-founder Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock started the evening off by pouring Stimulus a 6.5% ABV Belgian-style Amber ale. Stimulus has a medium amber color and black coffee forward taste. That tang of a black coffee splash melds well with the hops to bring out some of the fruity characteristics of the coffee itself with the spicy esters of the Belgian yeast used.

Lost Abbey Board Meeting Brown Ale: Matt Webster from Lost Abbey poured Board Meeting Brown Ale. A tasty brown with rye in its grain bill, Lost Abbey also added cacao nibs to help balance out the coffee intensity.

Angel City White Nite, a Golden Stout: Dieter Forester conveyed his idea and vision to create something playful, a golden stout or a beer that smells, taste and has similar mouthfeel characteristics to traditional stout without the dark coloration.So to create that full body and slight astringent roasty profile he rested the beer on cacao nibs and then added whole espresso beans. Served on nitro this could  really qualify for being a breakfast beer at around 5% ABV.

Vintages of Three Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Stout (2007 – 2011): Brewed only once a year, the website for Three Floyds has a tab for Dark Lord Day – the day they release the current vintage of Dark Lord to the public, Dark Lord is a biggun let me tell you. A deep, thick Imperial Stout with coffee. This beer was in some aspects the outlier of the tasting as it isn’t strictly speaking a coffee beer but a beer that coffee in it along with a whole lot of other things. I had the good fortune to sample the 2008 bottling and it was a lot of what you might expect of a 5 year old high proof beer – molasses, cured black olives, licorice, burnt sugar and brewed with Black Cat coffee from Intelligentsia.

Firestone Walker Parabajava: Co-Owner David Walker poured Parabajava or Parabola Java, an Imperial Russian Stout. David likened brewing Parabajava to trying to sift cookie dough through a strainer in that it’s a huge thick monster of a beer, and he’s be right. Immediately you get a thick, unctuous, chewy sticky toffee pudding flavor swirling with burnt toast with the coffee coming in at the back end of things. Its only weakness is a bit of a boozy harshness mars an otherwise perfect finish.

Solemn Oath None More Black: At 18 months old Solemn Oath is a very new brewery outside of Chicago. This event marks the first time owner John Barley has ever tapped one of his kegs in Cali! None More Black is described as a Belgo-American Black Ale dry hopped with Simcoe. Immediately you get that steeped coffee flavor, spicy nose, acidity and overripe fruit with a roast finish.

Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout: This beer was the 800lb barrel aged gorilla in the room last night. Bourbon County Coffee Stout is given the once over twice it seems in its barrel aging process. Left for an entire year in bourbon barrels in non-temperature controlled storage, this beer gets all the goodness it can from the oaking and clocks in at an impressive 14.3% ABV. It’s a giant toffee bomb; spun sugar, tamarind, coconut, toasted oak with the slightest hint resinous herbs on the finish.

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA with Espresso: This bouncing 2 year old was dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin and was a  first for Stone Brewing as they had never used that hop varietal before.

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What struck me the most during the panel discussion was two things: the serious diversity f ways these brewers had gotten the coffee essence into their beers and their desire to find solutions to get some of the lighter, fruitier roasts of coffee into their beers. Eagle Rock Brewery cold pressed their coffee for their beer, Lost Abbey and Angel City both added cacao nibs to balance the roasty-ness of the coffee they used, Firestone Walker added coffee to the fermenters and let it sit for three days, Solemn Oath and Stone Brewing used a “teabag” method by adding their coffee to their brew post-fermentation in mesh bags. The brewers have also tried adding in the coffee to the kettle as both whole bean and ground in their experimentations in getting just the right mix. Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock Brewery said that when trying to come up with the perfect balance of coffee to beer he just literally added cold coffee to carious stock beers to see which one would work the best.

The desire of most of the brewers present to try to develop a beer style that would most compliment the lighter fruitier coffee roasts being produced today. Generally the consensus for this this topic seems to be to brew lighter beers, pale ales most likely where the hop profile works well with these lighter roasts. Perhaps as one brewer put it, maybe boutique coffee roasters could also get into micro-roasting malt for these brewers. Wouldn’t that be fun?

So, hats off to Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting for collaborating with Intelligentsia Coffee to make this tasting event happen and he told me that he will be organizing another event like this one for Chicago in the near future.

Bottoms up,

Jason Jewell



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