As a professional brewer, I’m on a continual quest to make the perfect coffee beer. I have spent a great deal of time collaborating with different roasters and speaking with other brewers about how to properly approach coffee beer. In the process, I’ve created half a dozen commercially successful examples of the style. This article will describe what I’ve learned regarding the process and techniques for making great coffee beer.
Choosing the Beans
My preferred method focuses on the coffee first: I start by finding great coffee and gathering ideas for the beer by tasting it (or “cupping” as the coffee industry calls it). This approach can be challenging, but the end result can be very rewarding. Most brewers I talk with take the opposite approach. They start with a beer they’ve made, then find a suitable coffee. This method can also result in a great beer; just take the time to find a coffee that will properly complement your award-winning stout.
When it comes to finding coffee, talking with experts and seeking out your local roaster can reap rewards. Look for a local roaster who is knowledgeable and, importantly, produces coffee you enjoy. Like beer, the best coffee is often made in small batches, where care for the ingredients and process can be adjusted to suit the roaster’s desires.
Coffee quality and variety vary greatly depending on the coffee’s origin, the way it was processed, and the length and temperature of roasting. Coffee ‘s profile can range from the dry, spicy fruit character of a lightly roasted African variety, to the bold, rich chocolate flavors of French roast South American beans. Experiment and find a flavor profile that suits the kind of beer you want to make.
Don’t be afraid to blend coffees for a unique coffee profile. Buy cups of different coffees at a local shop (or use your French press at home) and mix them in different proportions. You may end up with something like 1/2 Mexican, 1/4 Sumatra, and 1/4 Ethiopian. Take notes and keep the ratios the same when measuring out the coffee for your beer…”