9 Great Coffee Beers and Why You Should Try Them
You love coffee. You love beer. Combining stuff you dig doesn’t always work out well, but these two are a match made in heaven. For one thing, the craft beer and third-wave coffee movements have grown up side by side, and seem to attract a lot of the same fans and artisans. (Wander through the industrial section of any major city, and you’re likely to find a craft brewer and local coffee roaster within shouting distance of each other.) But more importantly, the flavor and aroma characteristics of coffee meld seamlessly with several beer styles—particularly dark, rich, malt-forward beers like porter, says Zachary Mack, a cicerone and owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York.
And yes, these beers really do contain coffee—though the process of getting coffee into the beer varies from brewer to brewer. While some add dry coffee grounds during the fermenting process, others take a finished beer and a lesser quantity of cold-brew coffee and mix the two together, Mack explains.
Why cold brew? “It’s more heavily concentrated than regular coffee, so there’s less water in it that could affect the beer,” says Tim Matthews, head of brewing operations at Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery. (He says the ratio of coffee to beer is always heavily tilted in beer’s favor; a 31-gallon beer barrel contains cold brew coffee extracted from just a pound of beans.)
Oskar Blues has experimented with a number of coffee beers, all of which include coffee from Hotbox Roasters—a spinoff launched by the brewery’s founder. “Since we have Hotbox Roasters right in house, we’re able to go to them and request some customized coffees we think will go well with the flavors we’re trying to push,” Matthews says. “That could be a porter’s caramel or burnt sugar or espresso flavors, but we’ve also done things with brighter Ethiopian beans where we were pushing citrus notes.”
While they make an excellent coffee porter, Oskar Blues has also brewed a small-batch coffee IPA. “A lot of people definitely aren’t ready for those kinds of flavors, but we want to be creative and do some new things with the style,” Matthews says.
Finally, if caffeine concerns are holding you back from diving into coffee beers, you can set those worries aside. “The final product has a very small amount of caffeine—just a few milligrams,” Matthews says. (That’s roughly the equivalent of one sip of brewed coffee.)
Now that you’re ready to start exploring, here are nine of the best coffee beers on the market today.
Founders’ Breakfast Stout
When you think of coffee stouts, you could consider this the prototype of the style, and it’s a damn delicious prototype at that. Made with Sumatra and Kona coffee beans, this creamy and complex brew from Michigan’s Founders perfectly marries the bitter notes of coffee and dark chocolate with malty, oaty sweetness.
Hotbox Porter by Oskar Blues Brewing Co.
Made with beans sourced from Mexico and Brazil that pump up the beer’s plum, chocolate, and blueberry flavors, this Oskar Blues offering is a complex, endlessly satisfying brew. Unlike many coffee beers, the java notes—while hard to miss—aren’t overpowering.
Coffee Bender by Surly Brewing Co.
Raise a pint of this to your lips, and you’re likely to experience cognitive dissonance; the roasted coffee aromas are so pungent that you’ll have to check your hand to be sure you’re holding a beer. Coffee also dominates on your tongue, but there are some chocolate and caramel notes to help round it out. If you like your morning joe black, strong, and dark, this offering from Minneapolis-based Surly is your beer.
Cold Brew IPA by Rogue Ales
Infused with Stumptown Roasters cold brew, this IPA from Oregon’s Rogue will challenge (in a good way) drinkers who think they’ve sampled the gamut of pale ale flavors. While the piney, bitter hop notes you’re accustomed to are there, the addition of coffee—which is on the mild side—gives all those traditional IPA flavors a new sheen and complexity.
Java Cask by Victory Brewing Company
This bourbon barrel-aged beer from Pennsylvania’s Victory combines several recent trends in craft—with outstanding results. The coffee flavors hit you first, but ease into sweeter notes before the bourbon takes over. At 14.3% ABV, it’s a warming, well-balanced beer made to be sipped on a cold night.
Rise Up Stout by Evolution Craft Brewing Co.
This beer from Salisbury, Maryland’s Evolution is opaque and nearly black in the glass, and is best served a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Allowed to warm up a touch, its cocoa and coffee flavors really unfurl. It’s a great balance of sweet and bitter flavors—the same type of balance you appreciate in a good cup of joe.
Mocha Merlin by Firestone Walker
Mack says this cocoa- and java-infused oatmeal stout from Paso Robles, California-based Firestone Walker comes to mind immediately when he thinks of great coffee beers. It’s bursting with roasted espresso aromas, which mix nicely with flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and spice.
Baba Budan by Appalachian Mountain Brewery
This bitter, citrusy, espresso-kissed IPA from North Carolina-based Appalachian won’t be easy to find. But it’s worth tracking down. Unlike most coffee brews—and IPAs, for that matter—this beer doesn’t go overboard. It’s an understated, balanced melding of flavors.
Cubano-Style Espresso by Cigar City Brewing Co.
Another coffee-lover’s beer, this creamy brew from Tampa’s Cigar City is dominated by dark-roast coffee on the nose and in the mouth. But when executed this well, that’s not a knock. There’s enough cocoa and vanilla goodness—along with a touch of smoke—to keep this beer balanced.