Chicago’s Goose Island has been the city’s leading brewery for decades because they are constantly pushing the limit. Their classic Honkers Pilsner is the definition of drink-ability before MGD got the term, while at the other end of the spectrum their Bourbon County barrel-aged stout prompted beer competitions to create a new category for cask-aged brews.
Well, they seem to be doing it again, and fortunately for all of us coffee geeks out there, this time they’ve turned their attention towards java porters and coffee stouts. Specifically Jared Rouben, the new head brew-master at Goose Island wants to deconstruct the way that coffee beers are made, and in doing so, find what he called ‘the perfect marriage between coffee and beer’.
And so, yesterday he invited us in talk coffee. We met throughout the morning, cupping coffees and sipping beers, but by night time we had narrowed our wish-list down to 5 recipes to use in 5 trial-sized 15.5 gallon kegs.
These 5 beers are on tap at Goose Island’s Clybourn Brew Pub, so you can come in to taste them for yourself. For you foodies, home brewers, coffee geeks and beers nuts – the rest of this post is to bullet—point some of the day’s highlights as I saw them. You can see for yourself by checking out the podcast that HopCast made of the day:
Functional Food Fight
Beers, especially stouts, and coffee, especially espressos, are big, big drinks, used to standing on their own. When put in the same room together, some brewers simply use the coffee for aroma and coloring, keeping the beer as lead, while other brewers really want that coffee-taste and body to come out, making coffee the leading partner. We started off the day by addressing this fight head-on, and decided to strike a between coffee and beer, only accepting combinations that made both ingredients better without compromise.
One way to do this is to add the coffee into the brew-cycle earlier on in the process. Those coffee stouts that simply BOOM coffee smell and flavor usually were made by mixing brewed or concentrated coffee into the beer directly before bottling. This method allows the most control over flavor intensity and balance, and minimizes the variables that could relate to a bad beer-coffee combination. On the other hand we did find that the oils of the coffee killed carbonation, which may be why most java porters and coffee stouts are designed to be relatively flat.
The earlier in the process that the coffee is added, the more infused it will be throughout the entire beverage. For example, even by going back one step in the production process you mellow-out the coffee flavoring quite a bit, allowing us to focus on the development of body, depth and aroma. This was accomplished by putting the coffee (1 LB whole bean) into a cheesecloth and let it seep in the beer while its in the cask. We considered fracturing or even grinding the beans, but were worried that the release of tannins would create a bitterness in the beer, and so opted for using the coffee in whole bean.
If you go even one step back in the brewing process you have the whirlpool. This is where hops and malts are added at 210 degrees, and spun with the liquid until all sediments are piled up at the center of the vat in a large cone. Given that this would the perfect temperature to brew coffee, releasing the oils that we were looking to add to the stout, we were very tempted to add coffee at this stage of the process. However, in that the smallest batch they can run is 16 kegs, and that there is a risk of the coffee buttering as it is heated, we opted to hold off on this option for now.
Now that we’ve been acquainted on the technical aspects of the brewing process, I’m going to summarize some of the creative aspects and contributors to the formulation process.
In coffee’s corner we had Dave Miller, Neil Balkcom & myself of Crop to Cup Coffee Co.
Backing beer we had Jared Rouben (Head Brewmaster at Goose Island Brew Pub), the cast and crew from HopCast..
And, being in the heart of Island’s brew pub, were spontaneously joined by folks from Half Acre Brewery, and the Siebel Institute brew school.
15.5 gallon keg with cheesecloth for testing
All coffees were poured over with Goose Island’s Liquid Inspiration American Style Stout
We started by cupping Coffees, discuss coffee-beer combinations, and then trialed combinations in French Press
There is no converting from a French Press to a cask – you are changing the duration from 4 minutes to 24 plus hours, the temperature from 204 to just over freezing, and the grind size from percolator to whole bean. Still, trialing recipes in French presses, allowing coffee to cool and then combining in difference quantities with the base beer allowed us to develop a rough proportionality of ingredients to coffee, and of coffee + ingredients to the beer.
While we had many, many ideas, we ended up with 5 different espresso stouts.
1) Girl from Ipanema: Brazilian Sul de Minas with Portofolio Vanilla bean
a. Hazelnut, Dry Almond, Aroma + mouthfeel/sweetness from vanilla
b. In that most Americans wouldn’t describe 1.25 ounce shot of espresso as very ‘drinkable’, but chug down 16 oz
lattes, we thought that we could formulate an espresso stout inspired by the most ordered coffee in America – the
Vanilla Hazelnut Latte.
2) Sgt. Peppercorn (aka Caliente Coffee Stout): Ugandan French Roast with Cinnamon and Peppercorn kernels
a. Bakers chocolate of French roast + body of cinnamon + peppercorn spice
b. Inspired by the Mexican Hot chocolate; we messed around with pepper flakes and Hassan as well; and while
actually quite pleasing, I can still taste the aftereffects of those trials and errors today, and so these ingredients
failed our ‘can you have more than one in a sitting’ test.
3) Straight up Sidamo Stout: Sidamo Yirgacheffe Dry Processed Arabica
a. Dry processed Yirg = pungent berry aroma + subtle sweetness
b. We LOVED this coffee, produced by the Oryama Cooperative, and hope that it can stand out in the cask.
4) The Rind-Grind: Uganda French Roast with Lemon Rinds
a. Bakers chocolate of French Roast + aroma, acidity, tannins and sweetness from lemon
b. When you rub a lemon rind on your espresso glass it mellows some of the espresso’s more extreme flavors and
shortens the sip into a nice rounded finish. This is not only a classic and classy way to serve espresso, it makes
sense. The extreme tannins and zest of the lemon get to your tongue first, changing the way your pallet receives
the oily and equally acidic espresso. In that we were converting this concept to a cold brew process, which kills all
of coffee’s acidity anyways, we thought that at least this zest would add some more effervescence to the
stout…..and it did! Within the first hour of being in cask with 6 lemon peels, this coffee stouts took on a beautifully
pert sweetness with incredibly pleasant depth. If I had to take my bet as to which of these recipes will be the
most drinkable, I’d have to say this one.
5) Good JuJu Espresso Stout: Crop to Cup JuJu Espresso blend and Tahitian Vanilla
a. Floral aroma + milk chocolate body of JuJu Espresso, with Tahitian Vanilla bean
b. When pulled as an espresso shot, our Good JuJu espresso (which we are releasing in February), has a floral aroma
and hoppy flavor in attempted emulation of our favorite IPA beers. As such, it only made sense to introduce this
blend to some real hops. We added a Tahitian vanilla (a sweeter variety) to bring through some of the sugar that
makes this coffee so good in an espresso, but would not likely make it into the cask through a cold-press.
At the end of the day, bunging ain’t easy –
To put these recipes into action I first had to learn how to bung.
To bung, you take a comically big mallet and an over-sized cork, steady a cylindrical keg with one hand while holding the edge of a cheese cloth full of coffee out of the bung hole so that it doesn’t fall into the keg.
Then you cork the bung hole and strike it clean and hard with the mallet to set a seal in place.
Needless to say, it was incredibly hard and Jared had to do most of the mallet work. It wasn’t just this that made me reflect on how complicated beer can be. I was glad that we held the beer as a constant, and varied the coffee ingredients, because otherwise the possible permutations would have been endless.
Getting beer and coffee geeks together was a blast, and incredibly educational as well.
If you are interested in learning more we took a lot of notes and would be happy to share.
Otherwise, get off of your computer and into Goose Island’s brew pub to try one of these puppies out!
I look forward to seeing you there,
Jake, Crop to Cup Chicago