I hate the word bitter. You might even say that I’m bitter about it. Bitterness, to the outside world has a negative connotation, both emotional bitterness such as “cold, bitter tears of regret” or “bitter resentment” and the physical definition of the taste. If I say to you that something is bitter, most people will think that’s a negative quality, and that’s difficult when it is one of the major descriptors used to describe beer flavor characteristics. What compounds this problem is that bitter as a word is so unspecific. Do I mean the bitterness of coffee? Or the bitterness of a great IPA? Or in the case of Bunker Brewing’s 122 Coffee IPA both kinds – and not a negative connotation for miles.
Now, before you spit out your coffee (or beer) when you hear the terms “coffee” and “IPA” in the same beer name, this perhaps isn’t such an insane idea. After all, coffee stouts blend their own roasted bitterness with the sharp coffee notes to great success – why shouldn’t this other bitterness found in strong hops work just as well?
On Sunday I stopped into Little Tap House to check in on its progress since I opened. I had a great time on one of the soft opening nights, and was eager to come back and see how they were making out. I sat up against the bar and looked over at the tap list. The selection was well thought out – everything from Victory Hop Devil to Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale – as well as a few I hadn’t tried. The top of my list was Bunker Brewing’s 122 Coffee IPA. How could that not catch my eye?
It arrived fresh from the tap with a slightly muddy light amber color. The aroma, however, was immediately unmistakable. Clear coffee notes arrived first, followed by something else entirely. Not strong hops, but a beery characteristic that offered up some additional spice notes.
Because I was engrossed in conversation about the beer, the only photos I have of it are when I’ve already made it more than halfway through the glass. If that tells you anything, it’s that it was very easy to drink. The taste is like a light-bodied, slightly sweet coffee that’s oddly perfect. The coffee is just right and not too bitter at all. In fact, I think the hops are “diffusing” the coffee flavor for lack of a better term. It’s like it’s broken up with this slight hoppiness, that makes the whole thing just magically work. The hardest thing to wrap your head around, honestly, is the feeling of drinking a light-bodied coffee flavored beer – as opposed to a thicker stout or porter – but I had some previous experience wrestling with (and ultimately accepting) that idea when I tried Peak’s Espresso Amber.
The crew at Bunker Brewing joined forces with Tandem Coffee Roasters for this effort – and I hope it’s not the last collaboration I see between the two of them. If you see this on tap in town, don’t be afraid to try it. It’s really the best of the bitter worlds!