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5 Smashing Coffee Beers for St. Patty's Weekend
Cheap concoctions of coffee and liquor aren’t in short supply, but craft beverage connoisseurs like us are looking for something else. Coffee beer can be done right (or wrong), this we knew, so we set out to curate a collection of beany brews that are widely available and wildly tasty.
We approached our taste tests as casual beer reviewers (we almost assigned cupping scores...), noting four main sensory experiences: appearance, smell, taste, and mouthfeel. Each beer was poured into a pint glass and tasted at approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit — right around the recommended drinking temperature for dark lagers and stouts. Bottoms up!
Java Stout, Bell's Brewery
A classic coffee stout, Bell’s Java is brewed with a custom blend of beans roasted by Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo (a real place, they'll have you know). It’s a seasonal offering that weighs in at a moderate 7.5% ABV.
Appearance: Pitch black with a 3/4" foamy, tan head. Long retention, bubbles for days.
Smell: Light, bright, and tingly. Like standing by the sea and sniffing salty air.
Taste: Coffee-like — not hoppy — bitterness right away. Straightforward and balanced. Familiar stout qualities, gently complemented by coffee. Long finish.
Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Smooth with crisp carbonation.
Overall: Java Stout is the standard, the middle ground. Coffee beers get better and they get worse, but Bell’s is a good brew and a good friend. It’s a solid starting point for coffee- or stout-lovers looking to learn a bit about the other world.
Use Bell's beer finder to track down a Java Stout near you.
Perkulator, Dark Horse Brewery
It's the only lager sold by Dark Horse and they dish it out with no small measure of spite. ("Take that, Germany, with your Reinheitsgebot purity law!", their website reads.) This collaboration with Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti uses organic, fair-trade coffee from an unidentified part of the lithosphere. 7.0% ABV.
A: Dark brown, decorated with a 1/3" cream-colored head. Visible sediment. (We suspect this fella is unfiltered, but brief research has neither confirmed or denied this.)
S: Cider, citrus, vinegar. Is there coffee in this?
T: There it is. Lambic-like tartness persists, though subtly. Mild, balanced. Coffee present but not dominant. Quick finish.
M: Light-bodied, but textured by sediment. If this were coffee it'd be brewed in a press.
O: Perkulator occupies a fantastically accommodating spot on the spectrum. Its balance and light body please drinkers of lighter beers — it’s a lager, after all — but its full flavor and higher alcohol content satisfy stout-lovers like our taste-testers.
Use Dark Horse's beer finder to track down a Perkulator near you.
3Beans, Sixpoint Brewery
Now we’re getting creative. 3Beans is an awesome amalgamation of, well, three beans: romano, cacao, and coffee. Romanos are the beans of beer history, rich legumes that were "favored by brewers in centuries past". Add roasted cacao beans from New York chocolatiers and cold brew from Stumptown, age it all in an oak barrel, and you've got one of the most complex beers we've ever tasted. 10.0% ABV.
A: Chocolaty brown. Light 1/2" head.
S: Fruity bouquet. Berries and grapes. Winey.
T: Hops galore (comparatively). Bright. Complex but approachable — like cold brew. Long finish.
M: Light-bodied. Loose carbonation that tingles on the tongue's front and sides. Surprisingly smooth.
O: This is one polarizing pint, being the top pick for some of our tasters and the least favorite of others. Hop-lovers usually have a hard time finding a coffee beer they like, but 3Beans fills a nice gap in a crowded lineup of malty stouts and porters.
Use Sixpoint's beer finder to track down a 3Beans near you.
Chicory Stout, Dogfish Head Brewery
Dogfish, dost thou ever sin? Not by our book. Another winner from the saintly New England brewery, this stout combines roasted chicory with organic Mexican coffee to proffer a unique and unruly experience. At 5.2% ABV, this is the lightweight of our lineup.
A: Black with a 3/4" dense, tan head. Long retention.
S: Earthy, rooty, rich. Reminiscent of Indonesian coffees.
T: Caramel, licorice. Mild hops (for Dogfish Head). Quick finish.
M: Tight carbonation. Crisp, tingly.
O: A pleasant surprise for us all. Dogfish Head’s heavy use of hops was all but absent and the chicory notes were delightfully subtle. This is as approachable as stouts come and it's likely to satisfy a range of beer drinkers.
Use Dogfish Head's beer finder to track down a Chicory Stout near you.
Bourbon Barrel Stout, Lexington Brewing
How could we not? With 95% of the world's bourbon distilled just hours from the office, and more bourbon barrels than humans in our dear Kentucky, it goes without saying that most of us have a thing for whiskey. This stout is aged with Haitian coffee in a bourbon barrel and weighs in at a hearty 8.0% ABV.
A: Pitch black with hardly any head to speak of. Short retention.
S: Sweet, aromatic, bourbony.
T: Subtle whiskey and cocoa. Long finish.
M: Syrupy, full-bodied. Light carbonation.
O: Newly among our favorite bourbon barrel ales, this stout is surprisingly balanced. The barrel conditioning yields a subtler result than we expected, imparting only mild whiskey flavor. It's still a full-on stout, with a heavy body to back it up, but all of our tasters downed it gladly and one even picked it as his fav.
Use Lexington's beer finder to track down a Bourbon Barrel Stout near you.