I just arrived at Counter Culture Coffee’s training center here in Chicago to attend a launch party for the highly-anticipated “No Middle Ground Coffee IPA”—a collaboration between giants of two craft industries: Counter Culture Coffee and Sierra Nevada brewing Company.
The partnership started when All About Beer Magazine invited Counter Culture to Sierra Nevada’s 122nd Beer Camp with a plan to make a coffee IPA. This, of course, was met with some resistance and trepidation, particularly from the product manager of Sierra Nevada, Terence Sullivan; coffee-beers, after all, are typically heavier bodied affairs, like porters and stouts—not light, crisp, and hoppy pale ales.
However, once the product was made, Sullivan said No Middle Ground is a great concept and a potentially groundbreaking beer.
Working with Abe Kabakoff, the pilot brewer at Sierra Nevada, All About Beer and Counter Culture created No Middle Ground using Counter Culture’s single-origin washed Haru coffee from Ethiopia and three hop varietals known for tropical fruit flavors—Mosaic, Calypso, and an experimental hop currently known simply as “291”—an experimental hop developed for Sierra Nevada.
If you’re unfamiliar with the number name of a hop, most experimental hops start out life as a number until it’s been decided they’re worthy of a name. Citra, Mosaic, & Simcoe, among others, all started out life as a number.
291, as is the case in most single hop beers, is used for both bittering and finishing and comes in at 55 IBU. For this collaboration, John Holl, editor of All About Beer, wanted to accentuate the Haru with similar berry notes from the 291 hops.
Similar to their neighbors in Idido, the Haru Cooperative selects a group of growers to turn in perfectly picked coffee cherry at the peak of the harvest season in order to produce the best possible lot. For the last two years, Counter Culture has been the exclusive buyer of this coffee and we are excited to see this coffee continue to evolve and improve.
In their fourth year of purchasing coffee from the Haru Cooperative, Counter Culture’s exclusive lot showcases delicate and nuanced notes of lemongrass and starfruit above a silky body.
I’m really interested to see how these two unique beverages mix in the cup and on the palate.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of the Counter Culture Coffee training center in Chicago, Illinois. Today we’re sipping the No Middle Ground Coffee IPA, from Counter Culture Coffee and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
origin: Haru, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
farm: Haru Cooperative
producer: smallholder farmers
elevation: 1800 – 2100 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ethiopia Heirloom
process: fully washed, raised bed dried
certifications: Direct Trade, Shade Grown, Organic
I’m really surprised by the aroma of this coffee IPA. There are really beautiful scents from the Haru (chocolate, cherry, and blueberry) and really beautiful scents from the IPA (citrus, lemongrass), but I don’t think they’re really coming together to create these scents—I think the aroma profile from each component is just playing well together.
Taking my first few sips of the glass, the flavor profile is actually really similar to the aroma profile. I’m not tasting a coffee IPA as much as I’m tasting a coffee and an IPA. Each drink’s most dominant unique flavors are simultaneously present: chocolate milk, cherry, blueberry, brown sugar, and raisin from the coffee component and lemon, orange peel, and bitter hops from the beer component.
Medium body; creamy mouthfeel; citrus acidity; clean finish.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Well, I had no idea what to expect going into this tasting event, but I was right about one thing: the No Middle Ground Coffee IPA was a very unique tasting experience.
I wasn’t sure how the two drinks would mix, and it turned out that they didn’t really mix as much as they just played off of each other. I thought the flavor profiles of each beverage would somehow combine to create a weird and wild coffee beer amalgam; instead it was just kinda like two distinct beverages in one cup, and I tasted the most dominant and distinct characteristics of both at the same time.
I really wish there would have been a larger production run for this coffee IPA, because I’d love to try it again soon. Unfortunately, though, once the last drop has been poured at one of these tasting events, that will be the end of No Middle Ground for a while—possibly ever.
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.