I’ve tried homebrewing in the past with varying results. Mostly bad ones. Rather than botch another batch, I’m taking it to the masters, seeking out professional brewers and accomplished amateurs alike to help me hone my skills.
I’m really passionate about three things: coffee, beer, and food. Music and sex are okay, too. When you get the opportunity to do something that involves combining two of your greatest passions, you jump at it. And no, I’m not talking about food fetishes. I’m talking about coffee beers. For my first homebrew experiment, I had the extreme privilege of teaming up with Intuition Ale Works’ experimental brewer, Nathan Fulton, to collaborate on a set of coffee beers that will be available exclusively at BREW Five Points during Jax Beer Week.
PART I – Plans, Plots, and Provocations
Brewing beer isn’t difficult per se but it does require some planning. So before we dive into actually brewing the damn thing, a conversation is in order to ensure we approach the project with end result in mind.
I meet Nate at the Intuition taproom where they’ve just tapped his latest “experiment,” a treatment on the ever-popular Jon Boat with honeydew melon and mint. The kolsch-style ale is the perfect vehicle for the summery additions and it goes down perhaps a little too smooth. We get right to business. The idea is to takeover the four taps at BREW with four unique coffee beer collaborations for an event to be held during Jax Beer Week.
When I first took over the craft beer program at BREW I had but an introductory knowledge of craft beer. I knew what an IPA was, I knew they were bitter and hoppy and I agreed they were better than adjunct lagers to be sure. I could pick a brown and an amber out of a lineup but I’d maybe tasted one or two saisons at that point and nothing more sour than a gose. What got me fired up about craft beer was an event called Uppers & Downers produced by what has become my favorite editorial resource for all things craft beer, Good Beer Hunting. GBH is like the Lucky Peach of craft beer content. The writing and photography are superb and do a marvelous job elevating the category to something that nears poetry and art. For many I’m sure that may have already been the case, but looking at beer from this perspective provided me the context I needed to wrap my brain around it and appreciate it the way it deserved.
Uppers & Downers is a coffee beer festival that in my opinion has single handedly expanded the boundaries of what a coffee beer is. Paralleling coffee in general, for many years a coffee beer was a big roasty stout with big roasty coffee flavor. But what U&D did was push the envelope by exploring more creative and innovative ways of using coffee as an ingredient. Roasty coffee flavored beers have their place and were not by any means excluded from the event but in its first year (and ever more so in the second), the lineup of specialty one-offs included pales, sours and even ciders brewed with coffee. Different methods of brewing and otherwise infusing the coffee into the beer were employed in just about every fashion imaginable. While I’m sure there were some winners and likely a failure or two what this event ultimately did was create a wealth of knowledge for brewers to further explore how coffee can be used in beer. I was not able to attend the flagship events in Chicago but I did make it a point to visit the Uppers & Downers pop-up at this year’s Specialty Coffee Association of America expo where they were sampling a half dozen or so entries. One beer in particular that impressed me was the coffee-treated Reclamation Rye from Creature Comforts out of Athens, GA, a brewery that has quickly ranked in my top ten.
For this event, I wanted to use a similar approach, exploring multiple ways coffee can be used to enhance beer. Since day one, BREW has championed coffee beers and our Hipster Speedball (cold brew coffee blended with imperial stout) has become the stuff of legend despite its simplicity. So right off the bat, that was on the list. That was the easy part. All we’d need to do is blend the cold brewed coffee directly into a keg with the stout at the right ratio and boom – Hipster Speedball on draft. The other brews wouldn’t be so simple. Another “beer cocktail” we’ve adopted based on the success of the Speedball is what we’ve dubbed, the Rude Awakening which involves the same formula as the Speedball but with IPA in lieu of stout. Since that time, several coffee IPAs have entered the market including a great ones by Rogue and Cigar City. In the spirit of keeping things simple and not over-taxing ourselves, we opted to do something similar but by first blending Intuition’s flagship I-10 IPA with People’s Pale in order to mellow the citrusy West Coast hop profile and give the beer some additional body and color.
The remaining beers would be brewed from scratch using Nate’s homebrew setup at the brewery. With not an ounce of shame, I wanted to recreate the Coffee Reclamation Rye or an approximation of it. To do so we’d need to be creative as the beer is a red rye aged on French oak. This could mean a million different things in terms of the relative ratio of grains, how long to age, etc. Not wanting a carbon copy, I did my best to relay the key flavor elements of a beer I tasted once several months ago. I wanted a brownish-mahogany hue, deep complexity and some soft vanilla notes. We could probably try out a variety of coffees but a Burundi we were serving at BREW at the moment struck me as a good fit but whether or not that particular coffee would still be available at the right time was anyone’s guess.
For the other option I wanted to go light. I wanted to display some nuance and subtlety from a nice fruity coffee on a stage where it would be able to shine. My first thought was a pale or perhaps a blonde and we decided on a hoppy blonde with Mosaic hops that I’d find a nice juicy, possibly naturally processed coffee to complement the berry-like characteristics of the hops. Feeling satisfied with where the project was going, we set a brew date for the home brews and called it a day.
Check back later for the next installment of Adventures in Homebrewing!
Don’t forget, these beers and more will be available only at BREW Five Points during GET JACKED: The Ultimate Coffee Beer Collaboration on September 20th!