What Is The Best Coffee Beer?
Each winter brings back together old friends in North East Ohio for the Tri-City Beer Club’s Annual Christmas party. In its 15th year the TCBC is a small group of beer fans who gather to blind taste test beers in a category. Getting older, the group has turned in Nirvana for NPR, and Cherry Coke for coffee. To reflect the maturing tastes, for the first time we decided to take on a hugely popular craft beer style; coffee beers. So what is the best coffee beer? Round one of The Barley Whine’s research into this question puts some great beers up to the challenge.
As always, we blind tasted brews of a similar style, rated between 1 and 10, with .5 as the only allowable decimal. The first beer was re-tasted at a random time to avoid position bias. Beers are ranked based on style, not their genetic closeness to Tim Tebow.
- Founders – Breakfast Stout: #1 . Smelling of coffee and sweet chocolate, pours a khaki strong head with good retention. The taste is cold pressed coffee complexly combined with semi-sweet chocolate. Finishes with a bitter chocolate, hoppy bite. The mouthfeel is thick but slick from the oatmeal, and well carbonated. A world class blending of flavors, brewed to perfection.
- Southern Tier – Mokah #2. Huge roasted coffee and chocolate nose. Do the Tootsie Roll! Milk Dud candy dominates the flavors. Lots of great chocolate, followed by the coffee, with cloying sweetness. The body is thick, less smooth than the Founders brew probably due to less oatmeal. Almost no bitterness in the finish. The 11% ABV is buried. The non-coffee drinks all gave this top marks.
- Tröegs – Java Head: #3 . A dark chestnut pour with bubbly tan head. Smell is surprising mix of malts, coffee, and hops. Some sweetness, coffee, and hops with biscuity malts. Lots of astringency from the oats and hops. Coffee is mostly in the finish. Body is creamy, smooth and thick.
- Surly – Coffee Bender: #4. Burnt coffee nose. Sweet coffee taste, dark chocolate, espresso. Very tasty!
- AleSmith – Speedway Stout: #5. Guess what? It’s black. Potent caramel/toffee nose. Taste is of a great imperial stout, with subtle java and chocolate, a bit of soy sauce.
- Bell’s – Java Stout: #6 (tie). Day old coffee grounds and vegetable smell. Lots of nice roasted malts, milk chocolate and burnt coffee hit the palette. The mouthfeel is nice and think. True to a stout but better with coffee, this beer suffers against sweeter, less chocolaty beers.
- Samuel Adams – Black and Brew: #6 (tie). Dark brown color. Caramel nose with subtle coffee. Taste has a creamy coffee element, with only very little malt or hops. Body is a bit thin, well carbonated. Drinkable, but just too one note and bland to stand out against others.
- Midnight Sun – Arctic Rhino: #8. Coffee and caramel notes with some alkaline odors. Tasted of roasted malts, mild coffee and a bit astringent. The body is really thin, with decent carbonation. Not as strong a java flavor, and much less thick than the others.
With stouts and porters, roasted malts, coffee and chocolate are a natural combination to play out in dark beers. If you like coffee, the addition of it to a good stout can make for a more complex, satisfying, even phenomenal brew. Chocolate is a very popular addition to dark beers and for those that do not like coffee’s bitterness, chocolate and a bit of additional sweetness turns them around on the style. Some of the best stouts fall in the coffee beer category so even if you’re not a 6 cup a day Starbucks addict, give any one of these a try in place of your Guinness or Baileys and you will be joyously surprised.