Recently there’s been a bit of grumbling from some longtime craft beer fans against the use of excessive amounts of adjuncts (ingredients other than malt, yeast, hops and water) in dark beer for novelty.
Stouts that taste like ice cream, cereal or chocolate cake continue to grow in popularity, and they can be a fun experience, if you’re in the mood to be adventurous and a little silly. The ingredients added to stouts do not always have to be sweet or nostalgic to be enjoyed, however. In my mind, there’s no better match for dark beers than the addition of an ingredient familiar to many: coffee.
The combination of coffee and dark beer might seem obvious; they share a remarkably similar flavor profile, with complex bitterness and roasted notes. However, it is more challenging to get coffee and beer to harmonize than one might think. The process of creating an excellent coffee beer is far more involved than pouring a pot of coffee into the brew kettle and hoping for the best. Some brewers add coffee grounds during fermentation to impart the coffee’s flavor, others combine coffee that has been cold brewed (to reduce bitterness) with the finished beer, and others use more involved steeping techniques to get the flavors that they want.
In my experience, the best versions of these beers are those where the coffee is prominent and flavorful, but not the only element that you taste. The flavors can also be changed by using different coffees, different roasts or other flavored coffees (such as hazelnut) to bring yet another dimension to the brew.
As local coffee roasters have popped up, their brewery neighbors have more options for partnership and collaboration. For Orono Brewing Company, that means working with 44 North Coffee Roaster in Deer Isle to create their 44 North Coffee Milk Stout. Available in cans, this is a hearty stout that has been finished with coffee beans and then sweetened ever so slightly with lactose (a brewing sugar) and Madagascar vanilla beans. The smoothness of this stout makes me wish I could order it as my morning beverage.
Rising Tide’s Waypoint Coffee Porter has remained a favorite of mine for several years. Their coffee porter uses coffee that was blended and roasted by Tandem Coffee Roasters – quite literally their East Bayside neighbors – and has an almost decadent taste even with only 5 percent alcohol content. I enjoy the chocolate notes in this one – even though there is no chocolate added.
On the slightly lighter end, Lone Pine Samara Brown isn’t a stout, but still has a robust taste to put it high on my list. The brown ale, coming in at 7 percent alcohol, contains organic coffee from Bard Coffee Roasters in Portland as well as a touch of Maine maple syrup for sweetness. The result is a roasty, breakfast-like beer that’s not too heavy.
If you can’t get enough of the beer and coffee worlds colliding, there are a few places where you can enjoy them side by side, in the same place. The bustling and friendly Elements: Books Coffee Beer in Biddeford is a combination coffee shop, bookstore and bar, and each piece seems to fit well together. Not all of the beers they have on tap are coffee-focused, of course, but they do like to highlight beers that have collaborated with local roasters.
Even more in line with this idea is when a brewery starts to incorporate coffee into their day-to-day operations. The recently-opened Side By Each Brewing in Auburn contains the brewery, a coffee shop supplied by Coffee by Design and a food “truck” installed into the wall offering up treats from Pinky D’s Poutine. This is the first brewery in Maine, as far as I can recall, that has an operational coffee shop within it, and the potential for crossover is already evident. It is serving nitrogenated cold brew coffee on “tap” and has already created some beer that includes the Coffee by Design coffee as an ingredient. I had a taste of Maillard’s Revenge Coffee Porter when I stopped by to visit the tasting room, and it was rich and bold. Ethiopian Sidamo beans were used in the brew, and their fruity richness hit all of the right notes for me.
There are a lot of Maine breweries that brew at least one beer with coffee added, so I suggest taking a look at the fine print of the stouts on the menu to find them.
A parting word of advice on your coffee beer tasting adventures, however: Many of these beers contain at least a little bit of caffeine that comes naturally from the coffee and the brewing/steeping process. My uncle in-law found this out the hard way when he opened up a growler of Norway Brewing Co.’s Mr. Grumpypants (a coffee stout) as a nightcap and was subsequently awake for quite a bit longer than he was expecting – turning him into the beer’s namesake, at least until he finally fell asleep hours later.