Mmmmm. A nice delicious cup of coffee. Or a cold, dark, stout. Wait! Why not blend the two together? A good coffee beer goes a long way, and can be a lot of fun to make. It’s a specialty beer that I have made at least a handful of times in different varieties. Some of them have been merely adequate, with a couple approaching sublime. My last was by far the best yet.
There are three different techniques used for brewing coffee beers. The oldest, and most commonly used technique, is to add the coffee beans into the boil. The ground coffee can be boiled anywhere from 15 minutes to being added at flameout. This technique extracts some flavor from the coffee, although boiling for any length of time drives off most of the very volatile aromas. The drawback of this technique is that it extracts more of the bitterness from the coffee. That bitterness can give a strong impression of coffee, but it can’t give you the degree of coffee aroma and flavor you might prefer. The next technique is to add the ground coffee in a secondary fermenter after the main fermentation is complete, similar to a dry hop. Because there is no heat being applied, the delicate aromatics are not forced out of the beer, but can be dissolved into it. I have used this technique with much greater success than boiling, so it is the focus of this article. The final technique involves making a cold brew coffee and then adding that to the beer. Add the coffee grounds to a cold jar of water and let it soak overnight. This cold brew can be added to the beer to add the coffee flavor and aroma you desire. This extracts very similar compounds from the coffee as leaving the coffee in the beer, and should provide excellent results. That said, I haven’t tried it: adding coffee into the fermenter provides such excellent results I have had no need to try any other techniques.
Coffee can be added to any kind of beer, but most commonly it is added to porters or stouts. On occasion, you will see one along with an oatmeal stout, and I once even found one mixed with bacon (thank you Haven Brewing). Coffee can also work with lighter beers, but the roasty, malty, and chocolaty flavors of these beers complement the coffee flavor.
First, get a delectable coffee beer to drink. There are a variety of great coffee beers on the markets today. A couple of excellent examples are the Java Porter from Mountain Sun, Santa Fe Brewing’s Imperial Java Stout, and Founder’s Breakfast Stout. All of them will be an excellent accompaniment to a coffee brewing session.
Next, select a nice brand of coffee. Folgers? No. Yuban? No. Dunkin’ Donuts? Not even. Basically, if it’s coffee that you would want to drink, that’s what you want to add. The darker the roast, the more flavor you should expect. I have used the French Roast from that coffee manufacturer that you can’t avoid, gotten nice organic dark roast from the local grocery, and used the exotic stuff from my local coffee roaster. As long as it’s fresh, properly roasted, and freshly ground, you are bound to make an extremely tasty brew.
Grind your own beans immediately before adding them to the fermenter. If you can’t do it yourself, have it done at the store, but use the ground beans as quickly as possible, preferably the same day. The volatile chemicals in the coffee can escape very quickly, and you would much rather have them escape into your beer. Go with a fairly coarse grind. You want to make sure that the coffee will be absorbed into the beer, but the contact time will also be fairly long. Use about 1 cup of ground coffee for a 5 gallon batch for a robust coffee flavor. Use less if you don’t want the coffee to be as strong, but I would be cautious about putting in too much more.
Add the ground coffee directly to the fermenter. I use a sanitized funnel to prevent making a big mess. I don’t worry about actually sanitizing the coffee, as it is generally pretty clean. Make sure to take good care of it en route.
Let the grinds sit in the fermenter for 18-24 hours. Pull a sample THE NEXT DAY! This technique works quite quickly. If the coffee aroma and flavor are where you want it to be, rack off the coffee beans into another fermenter. Proceed to bottle or keg the beer as soon as you are ready.
Enjoy your coffee beer and don’t forget to share some with your friends.