Coffee-infused beer is all the rage these days. There’s even a festival in Chicago that celebrates the mixture of coffee and beer. Nowadays it’s not enough to just brew good beer – breweries have to challenge and excite their consumers’ ever-increasingly discerning palates with a wide variety of unique and interesting flavors. Coffee – having become a more complex beverage than fine wines, even – is a natural choice for brewers to experiment with. But infusing beer with coffee isn’t a new idea; it’s a concept that’s been around for at least 20 years.
It’s generally agreed upon that New Glarus Brewing Company was the first to brew a commercial coffee beer in 1994. Two years later, the Wisconsin brewer’s coffee stout won silver at the B.T.I.– World Beer Championships. The beer became increasingly popular with New Glarus fans, but shortly after the award was given the ATF put a halt on coffee beer due to its caffeine content. New Glarus put its coffee stout on hold until quiet lobbying successfully made it legal to sell coffee beer with proper labeling on the bottle. New Glarus routinely brings this beer out of retirement, and December 2015 marked the most recent return of the famous New Glarus Coffee Stout.
Per New Glarus’s founder, Deborah Carey, New Glarus Coffee Stout is intended to be a seasonal beer, best served at room temperature to weather Wisconsin’s brutally cold winters. This hearty stout is brewed with roasted malts and American hops, and is infused with cold brewed coffee from Just Coffee Cooperative (located just up the road in Madison). The coffee they chose to infuse it with was Just Coffee’s Nicaragua Las Diosas.
Nicaragua Las Diosas
Las Diosas is a project of La FEM – an organization in Esteli, Nicaragua dedicated to women’s empowerment. Women’s coffee cooperatives are incredibly rare in Latin America. You can learn more about the Las Diosas cooperative and the La FEM organization here.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the New Glarus Coffee Stout, from New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Esteli, Nicaragua
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Las Diosas (La FEM)
elevation: 950 – 1200
cultivars: Caturra, Catimor
process: fully washed, patio dried
alcohol by volume: 5.75%
international bitterness units: 55
ingredients: Coffee, Malts, American hops
stemware: Nonic Pint Glass
Cracking open the bottle of New Glarus Coffee Stout and pouring it in my nonic pint glass, the beer is black but has some brown and red hues around the edges—not a perfectly opaque black—and is capped by a khaki-colored, frothy head that has a two-finger width. That head almost immediately dissipates, though, to a thin lacing that has a ring of cream around the edge of the glass and spotty lacing. There’s also a fair amount of visible carbonation around the edges of the glass.
The aroma consists mainly of a dark roasted coffee as well as a burnt toast nuance. There is also a quite a bit of vanilla, dark chocolate, caramel, and dark berries. An herbal hop profile backs up the strong dark aromas to this beer.
This is pretty light for a stout, and there’s a fair amount of carbonation up front. In terms of mouthfeel, the beer is lightly creamy with a lot of chewiness that persists throughout the glass. Caramel and a very dark toasted bread make up the initial quality to the flavor. This transitions into a dark roasted coffee ground flavor that is backed up by dark chocolate, vanilla, and brown sugar. The last third of the beer is quite leathery and herbal with a hint of tobacco and hazelnuts. No lingering bitterness.
Despite its rich, storied history, I have to confess that I really wasn’t expecting all that much going into the New Glarus Coffee Stout. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that because of its rich, storied history that I wasn’t expecting all that much going into it.
When it comes to coffee-infused beers, it seems that what’s traditionally regarded as quality doesn’t match up with the very best products that are currently on the market. We’re in a renaissance for coffee-beers, and products that are bound to the same traditions that they’ve been practicing for 20+ years are becoming increasingly passe. Further, New Glarus really isn’t known for stouts and porters as much as their lighter-bodied lagers and ales.
But, I have to say – New Glarus Coffee Stout really surprised me. It definitely didn’t blow me away and it didn’t knock my socks off, but it was a tasty beer that exceeded expectations.
What were your thoughts of this one? Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome! Feel free to enter a comment below. Also remember to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and follow us on Instagram!
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.