A pretty popular beer flavour addition is coffee, with many brewers pairing coffee additions with darker beers such as stouts and porters where the bitter, roast and chocolate flavours of the beer pair well with those of the coffee. That said several notable breweries including Mikkeler, Stone and Aleman have experimented with different beer styles and produced fantastic coffee IPAs, Ambers and Lagers too, even recently Starbucks announced they’re going to be serving an Espresso cloud IPA in some of their stores.
For this edition of Pimp My Beer, I’ve brewed a Port 66 American Oaked Amber Ale kit, split it into 4 separate vessels and experimented with 4 different techniques to infuse coffee into the beer as explained below.
Coffee Infusion Techniques
To begin, I brewed the Port 66 American Oaked Amber Ale kit as per the instructions up to the step before bottling. At this stage it should have a gravity of 1.013 or below – once I had this and it read consistently for 2 days, it was time to add the coffee.
I split the beer into 4 sterilized 1 gallon (4.5L) demijohns. Note – the dosage rates of coffee below are for 4.5 litres of beer.
Add about 30g of slightly crushed coffee beans into the demijohn and transfer the beer on top of it. The amount of coffee to add using this method varies from recipe to recipe and really depends on taste but 30g (or 150g for a 23 litre batch) should produce a good amount of flavour – only the taste test will tell. This method is often called “dry beaning” using the same process as dry hopping. However with the coffee beans, allow them to infuse for one week before bottling, being careful not to transfer any of the coffee bean debris into your bottles. I’ll be using the straining bag provided in the Port 66 Premium Beer Kit to avoid any debris entering the bottles.
I brewed 4 shots (1 mug-full) of espresso, cooled it down to approx. 20°C and added it to the demijohn before syphoning the beer on top of it. I then mixed the coffee and beer in the demijohn and proceeded to bottle and prime the mixture straight away. It can take some time to let the mug of espresso cool, so it’s best to cover the mug with cling film so nothing gets into it, or the beer you’re mixing it with.
At the same time as I added the hops to the primary fermenter, I put 100g of ground coffee into a fine mesh bag, placed this in a beaker and added cold water – just enough to cover the bag. I covered this with cling film and left this to steep for 3 days until fermentation had finished. I then added the cold brewed coffee to a demijohn, transferred the beer onto it, mixed and bottled immediately. The reason I used cold rather than hot water is to avoid extracting too much bitterness from the coffee which can happen if using hot water.
Using an extract means a lot of the work has been done for me and I simply have to add it to my beer before bottling. Products such as this achieve the extract through distillation of premium coffee beans so for me I simply added 2 teaspoons of extract into the demijohn, added the beer on top, mixed and bottled immediately.
I gathered 5 of my Port 66 colleagues and served up each beer for tasting. I took notes after each beer was tasted and have written them up below:
The ‘dry beaning’ method seems to have worked well in the American Oaked Amber Ale as everyone enjoyed the beer, despite the strength of coffee being highest overall. This was the most distinctively coffee infused beer, with a powerful aroma like inhaling a freshly brewed coffee this was followed by intense earthy and chocolate textures on the palate.
The espresso infused beer also had a distinct flavour of coffee on the nose and on the palate, but with a higher bitterness than the other beers. This bitterness wasn’t off-putting however; it added roasted flavours which did somewhat mask the oakyness of the amber ale. Overall this came out well and you might prefer this method if you like a bitter beer.
All six tasters noted how this beer was distinctly less bitter than the espresso-beer which is what I was aiming for using this method. My colleagues also noted this beer’s flavours as the smoothest and as having the best balance – tasting a mix of oak, roasted malts, toast and the subtle bitterness that comes with coffee. There was some fruity notes on the nose too. Four of the six tasters named this as their favourite and one which they’d be happy to make in higher quantities.
I might have got the dosage of extract slightly wrong with this one, as we all said we wouldn’t have known coffee had been added at all if it wasn’t explained beforehand. There was no clarity to the coffee notes and from what we could taste, the coffee flavour took away from the quality of the beer, making it the least favoured.
Perhaps with some adjustments, the coffee extract method might work better and is certainly the easiest to do. The cold steep method was clearly the winner however and I would recommend this as a well-balanced, great tasting beer, with just the right amount of bitterness. Fortunately I made more than enough for the tasting session so I’ll be taking a couple home for this weekend.
The espresso-beer might be more up your street if you’ve got a preference towards bitterness and I’d also highly recommend trying dry beaning as this allows you to easily play around with how much coffee flavour you want to add. As with any additions to beer, you need to do a bit of experimentation to find your perfect level.
Hopefully this has provided you with some guidelines to work from. I certainly enjoyed researching and experimenting with each method and anticipated knowing the results. If you have any other methods of adding coffee to your beer, or have any questions, please let me know in the comments.
Remember to tag us in on Instagram @Port66 with the hashtag #pimpmybeer so we can see what experiments you’ve been up to.