This week, amongst other things, is UK Coffee Week. Running until Sunday, it’s a celebration of all things jitterbean-related, and acts as a platform for Project Waterfall – a scheme, run in partnership with Water Aid, which aims to bring clean drinking water to some of the poorest coffee-growing regions of Africa. I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago; I was convinced, for years, that I didn’t actually like it. Incorrectly, as it turned out; my tastes had changed since that distant, shuddering experience. Predictably, when I actually tried coffee again (a Sardinian espresso, no less – deep end), I loved it.
The amusing thing is that throughout this coffee prohibition, I discovered – and enjoyed – other coffee-flavour products. Coffee cake was a struggle, but I got there eventually – even if it did seem like a waste of icing or buttercream, tainted by the evil bean. Coffee chocolate was an easier sell – although I still draw the line at coffee Revels; but then, doesn’t everyone? They taste like several other people have eaten them before you. Actual coffee, though, I merely thought I didn’t like. How wrong can you be? What a waste of all those years. Still, there was always coffee beer.
Yes, before I rediscovered the capillary-widening flash of caffeine-fuelling, I was drinking coffee beer. I admit, this is pretty daft. Still, that’s me. Coffee works so well in beer – particularly (but not limited to) darker beers; as a beer writer I would have been even dafterer to not try them, despite my dislike. The flavours complement other ingredients beautifully as well – things like chocolate, coconut, vanilla. Who knows? Drinking coffee beers may well have been my gateway back into the real thing. Anyway, in the spirit of UK Coffee Week, here are a few of the UK’s best coffee beers. If you’d like to donate to Project Waterfall, you can do so here.
Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA (6.5%)
I last tried this beer on March the 26th, 2011, as part of the prep for this blogpost on a Coffee IPA battle between the Kernel and Mikkeller (a similar idea was had by a fresh-faced Hopzine Rob). At the time, I bought two bottles of the Ethiopian-laced Suke Quto – or rather, a bottle of each of the two batches – and still have one in the cupboard. Produced in collaboration with Square Mile Roasters, and featuring a Best Before of 01/12/2012 – how would it fare, all dusty and three years down the rails?
Pretty well, as it turns out. There’s a welcoming hiss when the grubby cap is popped, and a puff of foam from the bottle neck. As the foamy head layers up in the glass, there’s a palpable whiff of US caramel malt-style sweetness, alongside a touch of the cold cafetiere. Tastewise, things have faded around the edges – I remember, fresh, the IPA flavours charged out from the off, before the coffee arrived (unlike the Mikkeller, which went Coffee>Hops). But the dull flatness is rescued by the hop tinges that do remain, and by the coffee bitterness that has lasted for these three years, pulling through from the finish.
Summer Wine Barista (4.8%)
Barista was one of the first coffee beers I ever tried, I think, pretty much around the time I was experimenting with coffee IPA’s. A very different beast, this espresso stout pours blacker than a Pennine night, and has roasty coffee aroma from the off. As the flavours follow on in a similar fashion, they are joined by an ashy quality that really adds to the dryness. Leather, tobacco, all these bitter flavours wait their turn before arriving, and working beautifully.
Cromarty Brewed Awakening (4.7%)
Speaking of firsts, aside from the eponymous Happy Chappy, Brewed Awakening (coffee beers have great names) was probably one of the first I tried from the more remote of the Black Isle’s two producers. Locally ground Arabica beans result in a real deep roastiness, giving a fantastic backbone. There’s even a bit of caramel sweetness, before the mildly bitter coffee finish. A one-off cask with added sarsaparilla root passed swiftly into Edinburgh folklore when it appeared at the Stockbridge Tap.
Bristol Beer Factory Mocha (4.5%)
Produced as part of 2012’s ’12 Stouts of Christmas’ range, I pushed the boat out a little to include this one – it didn’t hang around for long. Brewed in collaboration with Extract Coffee Roasters, BBF Mocha featured Tanzanian Hope Project Peaberry Espresso, blended with Bristol’s base stout. The main talking-point was how much body it had, despite being ‘only’ 4.5%. The chocolate provided a bittersweet edge, which – of course – worked wonderfully with the big coffee roast. Great stuff.
BrewDog Dead Metaphor (6.4%)
Oh, how did this one get in here? I…er…
Elixir Cool Beans (5.0%)
Ending this list as it began – with a coffee IPA – unlike Kernel/Mikkeller the coffee was omnipresent, rather than merely the opening or closing half. In contrast to the ashen dryness of Barista, or the soft roastiness of Brewed Awakening, Cool Beans comes over more as a green, unripe, almost biting bitterness. If there’s a coffee equivalent of a raspberry, yet to ripen, this is it. Combined with the resinous hop element there too, it’s as different as all the others – proving how unusual and versatile this most magic of beans can be.