Over the past few years, Portland has found itself at or near the top of a number of lists of the best beer cities in America. With the abundance of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York license plates found outside area tasting rooms, it’s fair to say word has gotten out about Portland’s world-class beer scene.
Portland is also home to another beverage culture that mirrors the beer scene in quality, diversity of flavors and the art of the craft. That is, locally roasted coffee. Though there are fewer roasters than brewers in Portland, the quality of the beans being roasted, ground, steeped and streamed into coffee mugs is equally impressive.
It only makes sense, then, that local brewers and coffee roasters should team up, seemingly en masse lately, to produce stouts, porters and ales brewed with coffee. Since many specialty malts used in brewing darker beers contain coffee flavors, putting the beans directly into the beer is a natural next step.
This winter there are a number of Maine-brewed coffee beers differing in style, beans and brewing techniques available to craft-beer lovers and coffee geeks alike.
A prime example is Banded Horn’s Jolly Woodsman, a 7.5 percent alcohol coffee stout brewed with wood-roasted beans from Speckled Ax in Portland.
Banded Horn brewmaster and co-founder Ian McConnell has been brewing with coffee his entire career, dating back to his time at Six Point Brewing in Brooklyn, New York.
When looking for the right coffee roast to complement the dark malts in his stout, McConnell reached out to Matt Bolinder, owner of Speckled Ax.
“Matt tasted the beer and picked the best roast that was in season based on us wanting it to be highly aromatic and perfect for cold-brew and the rich roasted bitterness of the beer,” McConnell said.
Bolinder, who also works with Allagash Brewing on coffee beers, added, “We wanted to use a coffee for Jolly Woodsman that would contribute something interesting and tasty to the stout’s profile. The result was using a high-quality, lightly roasted coffee from Kenya, an origin known for its acidity and clean red fruit character.”
The result of this partnership is a rich, complex stout with big aromatic notes from the process of steeping fresh ground coffee in the finished batch of beer.
For the past few winters, Waypoint Porter from Rising Tide Brewing has been a staple in my fridge. This 5 percent porter has bright fruit notes from the partnership Rising Tide has established with Tandem Coffee.
“Waypoint is out of sight!” said Will Pratt, owner of Tandem Coffee. “The coffee notes are nice and fruity. When we were coming up with the Waypoint blend, we wanted to add more than just coffee flavor to the beer.”
“Tandem’s coffees are bright and often fruity, rather than focusing only on the roasty or chocolatey notes we sometimes associate with coffee,” said Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide.
Rising Tide brewmaster and co-owner Nathan Sanborn explained that in brewing Waypoint, they add coffee at two different points in the process.
“First, we start with course ground coffee added directly to the mash with the grains to draw out the darker, more roast-focused flavors from Tandem’s espresso blend. We then finish the beer with concentrated cold-steeped coffee that we make in-house from a blend of Columbian and Ethiopian coffees to highlight the delicate citrus and fruit notes,” he said.
Another coffee beer to pick up in cans this fall is Coffee Burnside from Foundation Brewing, crafted with Antonio Domingo Cota beans from Bard Coffee in Portland. The brewers at Foundation vary the locally roasted coffee for each specialty release of their flagship brown ale.
“One of the things that we love about making this beer is experimenting with different beans and roasters to see how the finished product changes. It’s always different, but it’s also always great,” said Joel Mahaffey, brewer and co-founder of Foundation Brewing.
Mahaffey explained that this batch of Coffee Burnside is made with cold-brew coffee they make in-house before adding it to the beer.
What really came through in talking with brewers and roasters is that there is a deep passion for both coffee and beer among all parties. That passion has culminated in beautifully crafted, remarkably diverse coffee beers.
MORE COFFEE BREWS
Lone Pine Brewing Samara Brown with Bard Coffee
Funky Bow Midnight Special Porter with varying local roasters
Norway Brewing Company Mr. Grumpypants with Coffee By Design (limited release)
Allagash Brewing James Bean barrel-aged Belgian Strong Ale with Speckled Ax
Atlantic Brewing Ellen’s Coffee Stout with Crooked Porch Coffee (limited release)
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
2 to 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 Thompson’s Point, Portland. $40 per ticket. www2.mda.org
One of the aspects I love about the Maine community of brewers is all of the charitable events they sponsor throughout the year. This is especially true during the holiday season. On Saturday, brewers team up with local firefighters to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Local brewers include Fore River Brewing, Foulmouthed Brewing, Norway Brewing, Barreled Souls and Rising Tide, among others.
10:30 a.m. to noon, Sunday, 28 Pearl St, Biddeford. $15 per ticket. eventbrite.com
During the holiday season, it’s important that craft-beer lovers take care of their bodies amidst all our joyful imbibing. Get in on the growing trend of yoga events at breweries with Downdogs this Sunday. The price of admission includes a one-hour class led by a local yogi along with your choice of one beer from Dirigo’s lineup of lagers and ales. The event is BYOM (bring your own mat).