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HOOPS ON HOPS: Coffee + beer = coffee beer

Dave Hoops

DULUTH — Two of the most enjoyed beverages in the world are certainly beer and coffee. This week, I enlisted help to talk about how to join these two great beverages. I asked coffee expert Eric Faust of Duluth Coffee Co. about the coffee and beer partnership.

Here's Faust's take:

In the coffee industry, coffee is a product with a cornucopia of textures, flavors and nuances, but to many, coffee is a singular flavor. For us at Duluth Coffee Co., coffee is one of the most complex beverages in the world with over seven times the aromatic flavor compounds of wine. As coffee roasters, coffee beers are an enigma, as many of them leave out one of the most important aspects of coffee — where it's from.

When we taste coffee beers, whether we like them or not, we ask the questions: Who roasted it? What country is it from? How was it processed? When notes of raspberry and apricot dance on the palate or flavors of vanilla and cypress linger in the finish, we want to know if it can be attributed to a high-grown Kenyan coffee or naturally processing Costa Rican coffee.

We have found through our work with different breweries and the constant tasting of coffee beers that the beers that turn out the best are ones where brewers have collaborated with roasters to understand each other's craft in order to build a balanced beverage. Coffee is a unique and complex beverage that needs to be evaluated and selected with intention. Understanding the flavors, body and texture so its strengths can be complementary to the right beer is critical. The brewers that take the time to understand the craft of coffee are the brewers who create crafted beers that are innovative, progressive and taste good.

My take:

Over the years, I have found that the best coffee beers are stylistically varied but carry one constant — the coffee is cold pressed and added post fermentation.

Great coffee has its very own noble flavor profile. Adding it to beers brewed to highlight caramel, vanilla or cinnamon flavors, for example, is almost always a crowd pleaser. The rich aromas and flavors of chocolate, espresso, molasses and licorice coffee adds to beers is very very much worth seeking.

I'm often asked about caffeine in beer. The answer is yes, if caffeinated coffee is used, the caffeine does carry over to the beer. The FDA is considering guidelines about coffee usage in beer that brewers would have to adhere to, so caffeine levels are pretty tame. As of this writing, there are no regulations, so coffee additions are really up to the brewer.

Some of the greatest beer pairings with coffee are surprisingly lighter beers. German style helles is a very good pairing and a few more lighter beers that were standouts: coffee hefeweizen, coffee marzen (fest beer) and coffee kolsch. All of these innovative styles of beer would not normally fall into the typical profile of beers with coffee additions, but all are great in my opinion.

For coffee lovers, these beers are a treat for sure, but I also want to touch on a fairly new phenomenon that has crossed over from the beer world: nitro coffee. This is cold pressed coffee infused with nitrogen and poured on tap.

The nitrogen adds a thick creamy head to the coffee and smooths out the flavor. This style of coffee pour is sweeping the nation. Our very favorite pour is a ¾ stout with ¼ nitro coffee. I highly recommend this wonderful marriage of the most popular (not counting water) drinks on Earth.

Many breweries brew with coffee, seek out these beers and let us know what you think.