Someone once told us that coffee and beer are the bacon and chocolate for imbibers — two (questionable) vices that rule supreme in separate domains, but whose flavor opportunities are magnified when properly combined.
And with the third-wave coffee scene operating in growing parallel with the craft beer movement, it makes sense that major breweries across the country have already been uniting dark and sweet stouts with the bitter, almost dirt-like elements of coffee beans and pulled espresso. Ballast Point, for example, makes Victory at Sea, a vanilla coffee porter; Goose Island makes a Bourbon County brand coffee stout; even Sam Adams tried out an English-style stout infused with coffee beans called Black & Brew.
But with the Southland now home to nearly as many small-batch roasters as homespun breweries, why not celebrate the slew of brews that have combined the two locally made craft beverages in ways that would have been impossible only three years ago?
In anticipation of the Father's Day “Collabrewtive” Brunch co-presented by Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Food GPS — in which six area breweries will be teaming up with six regional roasters to make one-off beers — we've compiled a list of our own favorite recurring local coffee beers, all of which incorporate beans roasted in greater L.A.
6. Bootlegger's Black Phoenix Chipotle Coffee Stout, Kéan Coffee
Too many intense flavors in a beer can sometimes result in them all overwhelming one another. But Bootlegger's chipotle coffee stout is so well balanced with its restrained spice, toasty chocolate quality and subtle coffee additions that it's hard to believe there are crazy, non-beer ingredients in it at all. Made with beans from Kéan Coffee — the seven year-old Orange County roaster started by legendary roaster Martin Diedrich — Black Phoenix (and its more rare big brother, Imperial Black Phoenix) is available in bottles and on draft (nitro, if you're lucky!) citywide.
5. Cismontane Black's Dawn, Green Earth Coffee Roasters
In addition to Black Phoenix, Cismontane's Black's Dawn was one of the first year-round coffee beers to be distributed around L.A. and at only 8%, it continues to be one of the more drinkable dry imperial stouts around. Today, the three-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita brewery not only bottles and kegs this coffee stout (made with Green Earth-roasted fair-trade beans), but also makes one-off variations including Black's Dusk, a red wine barrel-aged Black's Dawn, and Black's Nocturne, Black's Dawn aged in bourbon barrels that clocks in at a gnarly 12%ABV.
4. Eagle Rock Brewery Stimulus, Intelligentsia
Of all the coffee beers made in Los Angeles proper, Eagle Rock's Stimulus is definitely the weirdest — and we mean that as a compliment. Brewmaster Jeremy Raub starts off with a Belgian-style amber (think sweet candy sugar and fruity yeast) and then adds highly nuanced Flecha Roja Intelligensia coffee to create a beverage that's light in body and lacks any roasty flavors, but still packs a caffeine kick like a real cup of joe. Released in limited quantities every November (growler fills only!), Stimulus' combination of beer and jolt may make it the perfect hangover cure.
3. Noble Ale Works Naughty Sauce, Portola Coffee Lab
When Anaheim's Noble Ale Works invented Naughty Sauce — its blonde coffee milk stout — last year, many thought it was just to grab attention. After all, it is a yellow-colored beer served on nitro that smells like freshly ground coffee beans and has the mouthfeel of a creamy stout. But more than just grabbing attention, Naughty Sauce holds it by being a drinkable milk stout made with a custom Portola coffee blend that dares you to judge a beer by its appearance. Thankfully, L.A. is finally seeing kegs of this quarterly wonder with top-tier beer bars like Beachwood, 38 Degrees and Beer Belly tapping some of the most recent batch.
2. Smog City Groundwork Coffee Porter, Groundwork Coffee Company
Now that Smog City's Torrance brewery is up and running, L.A. beer geeks have rushed to try the latest batch of their Groundwork Coffee Porter, made with beans from one of the oldest roasters in the area. Not only is the beer a testament to the good things that happen when great brewers decide to collaborate with their favorite roaster, but it's also one of the only L.A. beers to score a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. So what if the winning batch was technically made at Tustin Brewing Company in Orange County — now that it's one of Smog City's year-round flagships, this beer is all L.A.
1. Beachwood BBQ and Brewing Tovarish Russian Imperial Stout, Portola Coffee Lab
When the meaty imperial coffee stout Tovarish was released in December of 2011, it was made with espresso drawn from store-bought beans. For its second release (and first bottling) last December, however, the coffee beans were custom roasted by Portola Coffee Lab and cold brewed directly into the batch, creating an even more complex profile of doubly dark roast with layers of chocolate and dark fruits. Aggressively infused with coffee in the same way some IPAs are with hops, Tovarish has the earthy aroma, intricate flavors and 11.2%ABV to be called the granddaddy of local coffee beers. Drink it fresh on draft when it comes out later this year or buy a bottle and let it age into a mellow image of coffee-beer perfection.
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