Coffee Beer-Adding Java to Your Brew

Adding coffee to your coffee beerThe easy way to brew coffee beer!

Coffee beer, a match made in heaven, right?  It definitely can be if done right.  Why would you want to add coffee to your homebrew anyway?   Because adding coffee will add a rich aroma, alluring complexity, and enhanced mouthfeel to just about any beer.  Think about why chefs add espresso powder to cakes, cookies and brownies.   It enhances the chocolate notes and integrates really well with the bready flavors in baked goods.  Well guess what, beer also has bready flavors from the base malts, and many of the darker beers have chocolate notes from the highly-kilned malts used in their production. 

In the US, adults drink an average of 587 million cups of coffee per day.  It’s a big part of our morning, and many people would drink coffee all day long if not for the effects of the caffeine. Recent research reveals that drinking coffee may give you more than just an energy boost.  Studies suggest that there may be several health benefits associated with drinking coffee. These include protecting against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, liver cancer, and promoting heart health. 

Health benefits aside, the flavor and intoxicating aroma of coffee are familiar to so many people around the world that it just makes sense that we would want to combine two of our favorite beverages into one.  If beer is awesome, and coffee is awesome too, shouldn’t coffee beer be doubly awesome?  Well, there are some really good and some great beers being made today.  It’s not just stouts and porters either.  American brewers are known for pushing the envelope with their combination of beer and other brewing ingredients.  If done well, coffee can be added to any beer style from a cream ale to an imperial stout, and all styles in between.  The brewer needs to add the coffee judiciously though, because if used with a heavy hand, the roasted flavors can overpower a lighter beer and throw even some darker beers off balance.   So how should we add coffee to our beer recipe?

How to Add the Beans to Your Coffee Beer

There are many different ways of adding coffee to your beer recipe.  Coffee can be added as whole beans, ground, crushed or cracked, drip brewed, espresso brewed, from a French-press, cold-brewed, ice brewed, or as an extract or concentrate.  Each method has proponents who make really great coffee beer.  The more highly ground the coffee is, the higher the surface area to liquid ratio and the more flavor and aroma you will get.  One tip when adding coffee grounds to your recipe, no matter how you grind the beans, it is best to add them to your beer in a grain or hops bag to prevent clogging of your tubing and to make clean-up easier. 

When to Add Coffee in the Brewing Process

Coffee can be added at any stage of brewing from first wort additions to packaging.  When added early on in the brewing process, such as in the boil kettle, some of the flavor and aroma notes may be boiled off and the resulting coffee beer will have a more subtle coffee aroma and flavor.  Kettle additions may also impart a harshness and bitterness from the extra acids that are developed so it may be a better method for darker beers that have the roasted flavors to hide any excess bite.

Later additions in the cool side of the process, during primary and secondary fermentation, can lead to a more robust coffee flavor that may be too much for some beer drinkers.  But if added judiciously, the roasted coffee character will blend harmoniously with the malt flavors to give the coffee beer a multi-dimensional profile. 

What if you want to avoid the potential for astringent flavors altogether?  How about adding coffee to your coffee beer recipe just before bottling or kegging.  This is done by many commercial brewers with good results.

Counting coffee beans for coffee beer reicpeOne thousand and one...

How Many Beans to Add

One of the main issues of making a coffee beer is how strong of a coffee flavor do you want to add?  In a large part, this depends on how much coffee you add.  Intuitively, adding more coffee gives you a more pronounced coffee flavor and aroma in your beer.  There is definitely a threshold where adding too much will overpower your beer, ruining the entire batch, unless you like carbonated coffee.  Using less will give you a more subtle touch, but it may end up disappearing in the roasted malt flavors of many of the most popular coffee beer styles.  This is one of those recipe elements where you are going to have to do some research.  Find a commercial coffee beer you enjoy and see if there are any recipe details online.  If not, try calling the brewery and tell them that you are a homebrewer who would like to make a beer similar to theirs but need a percentage of coffee to start your recipe with.  You should have no problem finding coffee beer recipes on many of the more popular homebrew forums.  For a 6 gallon recipe of Breakfast Stout, I added 2 ounces of fine ground Sumatra coffee at flame-out, and another 2 ounces of Kona during secondary.  The coffee notes were amazing.

Carton Brewery’s Regular Coffee Imperial Cream Ale is brewed with lactose sugar and Ethiopian Sidamo and Mexican Chiapas coffee beans.  They use a half gallon of double-brewed coffee per 20 gallons of beer.  The beer has a darker yellow color, kind of a straw-and-hay color.  The roasted coffee notes blend with the cloying sweetness of the lactose and the creamy mouthfeel from the extra alcohol to deliver a unique take on coffee beer with “milk and 2 sugars”. 

What Kind of Coffee is Best

For commercial brewers, it’s important not to choose a coffee with limited availability, even if it would make a wonderful coffee beer.  It’s difficult to replicate an award-winning beer when you can’t get the coffee any longer.  For homebrewers, this is not usually a problem.  There are a vast array of artisanal coffees available to the homebrewer.  And for even more control, try roasting your own single-source beans. (Here is the roaster I use)  As far as what kind of coffee beans to use, most brewers agree that Arabica beans are a must. 

Roasted Coffee Beans

Using a stronger coffee roast such as an espresso or French roast will give your beer a more robust coffee presence.  A lighter roast such as Sumatra or Guatemala Antigua will bring out more of the subtle notes these blends are famous for.  Darker roasts, such as a French roast, will come with added oils which give the beer extra mouthfeel.  Don’t worry too much about head retention if you are kegging your homebrew because the oils will float to the top of the keg.  If you are planning to bottle your coffee beer made with a very dark roast, you might want to start with a beer that already has a good head, like a stout or porter.  Just keep in mind that the head may dissipate quickly.

Darker roasts are also more bitter.  This will affect the perceived hop bitterness in your beer.  If you want to keep the same bitterness level when using a dark roast in your recipe, decrease the IBU’s slightly, by 5 to 10 IBU’s, to compensate for the added bitterness from the coffee. 

Most coffee profiles are well known and available online.  Choosing a coffee with low acidity will give your beers a more mellow coffee character.  You may find it easier to adjust the roasted flavors and bitterness with your malts and hops instead of worrying so much about the characteristics of the coffee.  In the end, experimentation, or imitation is a good way to go when choosing a coffee for your coffee beer recipe.

Cold Brewed CoffeeImage:Chris Monroe/CNET

The Cold-Brew or “Cold Toddy” Method of Brewing Your Coffee

If you want to use brewed coffee in your coffee beer recipe, the overall consensus from brewers on the best brewing method is the “Cold Toddy” or Cold Brewed method.  This method produces a coffee with much less acid, about 67% less according to Toddy Simpson.  What you get with this method is coffee that tastes like hot brewed coffee smells.  That’s one of the big problems with hot brewed coffee, it just doesn’t taste like it smells.  If you are smelling the aromatics, then they are leaving the coffee and won’t be available in your beer.  Check out the article and video on how to make cold-brewed coffee at home from CNET.com.

There are some people who think the Cold Toddy method produces a bland lifeless cup of coffee.  If you are one of these people, try hot brewing your coffee onto ice.  You will have to account for the dilution of the ice, but cooling it instantly preserves the volatile notes that come out as vapor when the coffee is brewed hot.  Hot brewing on ice also preserves many soluble compounds that a cold brewed coffee can never have since these compounds will only solubilize at higher temperatures.  This is the way the Japanese make their iced coffee and many believe it makes the best cold coffee.  Sounds like some testing is in order.

Another method is to add the coffee to your beer during cold conditioning phase, at around 32° F (0° C).  You get all the benefits of the Cold Toddy method with some added complexity that can only come from using beer instead of water. 

Conclusion

Coffee beers have been on the market since about 1994 when New Glarus brewed the first commercial version.  Since then, brewers all over the world have followed suit.  The methods are as varied as the individual beers themselves.  The days of only adding coffee to stouts and porters are over.  Have you tried a coffee-infused IPA?  Think about the possibilities.

 

References: Information for this article was sourced from “Roast Masters: Exploring the Art of Brewing Beer with Coffee" in All About Beer Magazine - Volume 35, Issue 2, June 16, 2014 By John Holl, "Coffee + Beer = Coffee Beer and it tastes amazing", blog entry for Portola Coffee Lab, Portola Coffee Roasters, September 10, 2011 by Jeff Duggan, “Brewing with Coffee”, BYO Magazine, Author: Glenn BurnSilver Issue: December 2002, “Brewing With Coffee: Techniques” BYO Magazine, Author: Jon Stika, Issue: September 2007, “Adding Cold-Brewed Coffee to Your Beer”,  Mad Alchemist-Pitching hop grenades at beer style guidelines since 2003, January 25, 2010, “Coffee: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information”, in Medical News Today, Written by Joseph Nordqvist,  Last updated: Thu 7 April 2016, and “A Little Buzz with Your Beer-The Java Head’s Definitive Guide to Coffee Beer” in GearPatrol.com Coffee Issue, by AJ Powell.

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