Craft beer brewed with third-wave coffee sounds like something you’d come up with in trendy food Mad Libs, right after underground pop-up poké toast or fermented Edison bulb breakfast bowl. But craft beer and coffee have a longer and more natural relationship than your favorite exposed brick and fried egg burrito. In fact, coffee and beer make fantastic partners — when properly deployed, coffee can bring out the best in beer and vice versa.
There are plenty of wonderful coffee beers that have been around the market for years, from local breweries like Smog City and Eagle Rock to slightly further afield breweries like Alesmith and Mikkeller. But in recent months we’ve seen a new group hit our shelves, including some unorthodox and interesting takes on the style. Here are six of the best new coffee beers around L.A.
Green Flash Brewing: Cosmic Ristretto
There’s been a fair bit of drama around Green Flash over the last couple of years — its acquisition of Alpine was tumultuous, longtime brewmaster Chuck Silva resigned in September, and its decision to retire Rayon Vert was nigh unforgivable. But one thing that isn’t controversial is the quality of Cosmic Ristretto, its new coffee porter. As soon as you pop the cap, the smell of pure black coffee floods the area, as if you had poured a Stumptown stubby over your head. The beer is delicious, too, with a coffee flavor that is big and assertive without turning into the actual cold brew that the nose suggests. Instead, there’s a substantial, chocolaty body with a little toffee malt flavor underneath, and the result is something like dropping a double espresso into a bowl of Cocoa Krispies.
Left Hand Brewing: Nitro Hard Wired
Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing rose to prominence on the back of its Nitro Milk Stout, a creamy, chocolaty beer that it managed to bottle with a nitro widget, which gives it a silky mouthfeel. Now Left Hand has expanded its nitrogen-infused bottle lineup to include a porter, Hard Wired, brewed with a whole bunch of custom-roasted coffee beans. Like the Milk Stout, it drinks a little thicker than its 6 percent alcohol content would suggest, but it is anything but heavy. The coffee is more subdued than in some examples of the style, which complements the base beer’s natural roastiness and hint of smoke and makes Hard Wired a nice, easy-drinking point of entry into the coffee beer category.
Sixpoint Brewery: C.R.E.A.M.
Much to the delight of New York transplants, Sixpoint’s well-designed cans finally started showing up in L.A. bottle shops in the last few weeks. In addition to its standard lineup, Sixpoint also sent a few seasonal beers our way, including C.R.E.A.M., its coffee-infused cream ale. Cream ales are generally a lighter style, but C.R.E.A.M. carries significantly more weight and a robust sweetness, at 7.2 percent alcohol by volume. The coffee is subdued, melding with the biscuit and honey flavor of the beer without overwhelming it. It’s a balanced brew, positioned right at the meeting point between sweetness and roasted coffee bite, drinkability and booziness, in a stylish can at a great price.
Maui Brewing Company: DoppelShot
Hawaii is famous for the quality of its coffee, so it may come as a surprise that DoppelShot is the first of Maui Brewing’s mainland-available beers to use java. And even more of a surprise, it’s not a standard coffee stout or porter. Instead, as the name implies, it’s a doppelbock, a strong, malty German style, which traditionally has more of a caramel and biscuit profile than the chocolate or smoke flavors of your standard coffee beer. DoppelShot is no exception, big and sweet underneath the coffee, like a bowl of coffee ice cream. There’s a subtle booziness to it, which gives it a warming feel without being harsh, and there's almost no bitterness to be found.
Stone Brewing: Americano
When the mad geniuses at Stone Brewing get excited about anything — freshness, distribution, Germany — they go hard after it. That often means pushing style boundaries with aggressive flavors and madcap marketing manifestos, and Stone’s new coffee stout is no exception. It's brewed with a whole mountain of espresso-roasted beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Coffee. Americano also incorporates a few varieties of American hops, which give the beer just a hint of citrus, almost like a bright shot of espresso. The resulting beer is as brash as the people who brewed it, with strong coffee up front, a hefty body and a sharply bitter finish that more closely resembles biting down on a freshly roasted bean than sipping your midmorning frappucino.
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Modern Times Beer: City of the Dead
Most breweries rely on outside sources to get the coffee that goes into their beer, but not Modern Times — it was the first brewery to double as a coffee roaster. Modern Times has a special house-roasted blend for its flagship coffee stout, Black House, but as craft brewers are wont to do, they decided to get playful with the coffee program and combine the roastery with another of their pet projects — barrel aging. They rest green, unroasted beans in used spirit barrels, which allows the beans to pick up prominent barrel and spirit flavors. You can buy them by the bag, or you can taste them in Modern Times’ new year-round offering, City of the Dead. The base beer is a medium-bodied, dry stout, a solid foundation, but it’s mostly just a vehicle for the coffee. The coffee and the barrel character both come through in a big way, giving a spectacular and truly unique flavor profile. The beer smells like wood and vanilla and coffee, with a noticeable trace of booziness, too. It is complex and earthy, and it hits a really interesting balance between sweetness and roastiness, with a little smack of bitterness to keep your palate honest.