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 III – Coffee Tasting
Today’s coffee beers aren’t quite as two-dimensional as the robust, roasty coffee stouts we’ve all grown accustomed to (which are still great, by the way). Brewers are doing new and exciting things with coffee, oftentimes collaborating directly with coffee professionals, as is the case here. They are reaching well beyond the classic coffee stout to blending, steeping and brewing all manner of styles from blondes and Belgians to IPAs and even ciders.
Now that we had a couple beers brewed, it was time to select the perfect coffees to bring this collaboration to life. For me, this is where things get interesting. Making a coffee beer using a lighter style requires a more delicate touch. You can’t just throw any old bean in the tank and expect it come out the way you want it. For this collaboration we needed to find the perfect coffee that would blend well with both the hop and malt profiles we built into our recipes.
To help us out, I recruited BREW Five Points’ coffee manager (and the 2015 Folio Weekly Best of Jax Best Barista winner), Mike Ricci. Mike has one of the most sensitive and sophisticated palates I’ve ever come across. The man can pick out flavor notes and defects most people (myself included) could never detect. I had an idea of what general flavor profile I wanted to incorporate into each beer but Mike was able to help us identify the specific coffee we should use.
The Hipster Speedball and Rude Awakening we knew we’d blend with cold brew but for these we wanted to showcase some of the more subtle notes of the coffees we’d be using. Cold brew is an awesome process that results in a smooth, low acid beverage but we agreed that for these beers, we didn’t want to give up the bright flavors that come with that acidity. So instead of using a cold brew process we elected to go the flash brew route, essentially a pour over on ice. The coffee that results is a brighter, slightly less intense brew but one that displays all of the more delicate flavors hidden inside the beans.
Since we only brewed a five gallon batch and would need nearly all of it for the event we had to design an efficient process to taste test the beers, not only determining which coffee was right but the proper ratio of coffee to beer. To accomplish this we decided on the following format:
- Taste the beer by itself.
- Determine appropriate coffee pairings.
- Taste the individual coffees.
- Select the one that would pair best.
- Blend the coffee with the beer at a 1:4 ratio.
- Adjust ratio if necessary.
We began with the rye, which we were tasting for the first time mind you. The beer itself at this point was uncarbonated and not fully oaked so we had to use our imaginations a little bit. It was definitely drier and spicier than I anticipated due to the volume of rye we used in the recipe. The oak aging would likely eventually soften some of that up but nevertheless it was still a very tasty brew. It showed considerably more floral character and was lighter in body than I imagined as well. Initially I had intended to use a Burundi coffee from Brandywine Roasters out of Wilmington, DE but due to the unexpected floral nature, I looked to Mike to recommend something that would better suit what we had in front of us. Mike suggested an Ethiopian Gedeb coffee that we happened to had a sample of from Black Tap out of Charleston, SC. The coffee is a fully washed Yirgacheffe with notes of concord grape and honeysuckle with a cane juice sweetness. After blending 50ml of coffee with 200ml of beer, we tasted the combination and found it displaying a light vanilla note from the oak (which would likely increase over time), sugar cane, toasty bread, some grape, and a subtle coffee pop with an almost buttery finish. We were so pleasantly surprised with how good it turned out on the first try, we all agreed we’d made the right choice with the first pick and moved on to the next brew.
Knowing in advance that this beer would be more difficult, we made sure to save enough to try multiple coffees. Originally I had wanted to use a Guji coffee from Ethiopia, mostly because I wanted to name the beer “Guji Mane”, but also for the berry notes it could lend to enhance the Mosaic hops. But after tasting the beer which ended up unexpectedly dank and hoppy with an almost Brett-like funkiness displaying subtle tropical fruit, Mike suggested another coffee to try. Humoring my ridiculous marketing ploy, we sampled the beer with the Guji coffee first. Also from Brandywine, the coffee itself showed notes of black tea, jasmine and stone fruit that didn’t do much to accentuate the hop profile so we moved on to Mike’s pick.
Sticking with the Ethiopian theme, we sampled Onyx Coffee Lab’s Hambela Buku, a naturally processed coffee with an extra modern (read lighter than average) roast profile. The coffee gave off the distinct aroma of freeze-dried strawberries and once brewed, displayed notes of strawberry, kiwi, coconut milk, lime zest and cocoa. Dan’s ([p2p type=”post_tag” value=”intuition-ale-works”]Intuition’s[/p2p] Brand Manager) eyes lit up when he tasted it for the first time. “I’ve never had coffee like this,” he exclaimed, and it was indeed a truly unique coffee. Natural coffees are almost always fruit bombs, absorbing the coffee cherry’s fruitiness as it ferments, but this coffee also carried a bit of a tang and some nice kiwi acidity that we felt would help to balance the hops. Suffice it to say, we had found a winner, though we agreed that a slightly stronger brew at the same ratio would really set it off.
Confident in the choices we made, we set a date to blend the coffee before the final kegging as the beers continued to develop and once again, waited patiently for the next step – the main event!
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!