If you think about it, it’s sort of a wonder that coffee beers aren’t a default brunch drink, ranking at least on par with mimosas and Bloody Marys.
If you like coffee (who doesn’t) and you like beer (who doesn’t), you might be a fan of any beer brewed with coffee—although some purists, of course, prefer to keep their beverages distinct. But coffee is a popular enough beer ingredient that you’ll probably be hard-pressed to find a craft brewery that’s never tried to put their own spin on it.
And yet, coffee beers tend to be a bit of a novelty, often relegated to limited releases rather than invited to a brewery’s core lineup. Part of the reason for this might be the oddity of a morning beverage having a baby with an evening beverage—if you go out for a nightcap, do you want to feel like you’re drinking coffee? Is the caffeine content something you should be concerned about?
On the caffeine front—generally, the answer is no. All beers are going to differ, but every brewer we spoke to said that their coffee beers have fairly negligible caffeine quantities, generally comparable to one-tenth to, at most, one-quarter of a cup of coffee. So unless you’re highly sensitive to caffeine, you’re going to get the coffee flavor without any real stimulant effect.
Coney Island Brewery currently has two beers in their lineup that use coffee as an ingredient, Freaktoberfest and Super Freak. Jennifer Henry, a spokesperson for the brand, explains why so little caffeine makes it into the final product.
“Freaktoberfest is made with whole beans and aged cold, so the caffeine content would be minimal, if anything at all,” Henry says. “Extraction rate drops with surface area to volume ratio (i.e., larger particles will extract less), as well as slows the lower the temperature, therein produces very little, if any caffeine, while retaining that lovely roasted flavor.”
She explains that Super Freak has slightly more because cold brew, not unbrewed coffee beans, is used in its production—but that it still only has about 19 milligrams of caffeine per serving. That’s about one-tenth of a cup of coffee.
So, if you’re looking for a boozy caffeine fix, Four Loko is still probably a better bet than coffee beers. But if all you’re looking for is taste, coffee beers can be downright delicious. You get the roasty, rich flavor without the harshness that comes with drinking your third cup of black coffee. Kind of like coffee ice cream. The roasty, toasty notes are probably what make stouts such a popular base for coffee infusion, but you can find other styles of beer that have been married with coffee as well—the aforementioned Freaktoberfest and Superfreak by Coney Island Brewery are actually pumpkin ales, for instance. Evil Twin Brewing has an IPA with coffee and lemon added, called, fittingly, Coffeenade.
So even though it won’t caffeinate you, a coffee beer is equally good at brunch time as it is late at night. Michael Lenane, formulation and messaging specialist at Sixpoint Brewery and certified cicerone, offers some tempting food pairing suggestions for Barrel-Aged 4BEANS, their imperial porter that utilizes Stumptown cold brew concentrate.
“4Beans makes an awesome brunch beer (with chocolate chip pancakes…) and an excellent after dinner drink,” he says, citing its richness and complexity without a sweetness that would make it a strictly dessert drink—robust foods like braised meats or anything with charring are his suggestion. But if a sweet pairing is still your instinct, you’re not off-base.
“For dessert it works across a spectrum of flavors, especially caramel and chocolate. I think a dulce de leche and hot fudge sundae would be an insane pairing.”
Indeed. Coffee, any time of day. We’ll toast to that.
Photos courtesy of Facebook/Sixpoint.