Coffee beers have been a thing for more than 20 years now, but they keep that groundbreaking spirit in them.
Usually dark and full-bodied, coffee beers have a distinctive taste and aroma, providing a exquisite combination of bitterness, refreshing acidity, and smokey flavors.
Many brewers are offering “coffee beers” without coffee, emulating the signature smokey taste and aroma of coffee from highly toasted malts. The similarity is shocking, and it reminds us that coffee is a lot more than that specific caramelized, roasty flavor.
So, if you want to learn more about coffee beers, keep reading below. I will explain what are coffee beers, how are they done, and how much caffeine they have in them, among other things.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
What are coffee beers?
Dark beers and coffee beers aren’t the same, although many brewing enthusiasts use the terms interchangeably. For this reason, you’ll find here and there that there are two ways to prepare coffee beers. That is, with or without adding coffee.
I prefer to separate dark beers from coffee beers considering coffee content to avoid confusion. The main reason to do so is that more recently, there are trends in craft beer and coffee that would overcomplicate things.
So, let’s agree on something first. A coffee beer contains some degree of coffee in it, regardless its color. If we don’t agree on this, how could we deal with a pale ale with white coffee added?
I know that I am contradicting several sources out there. Classifications and categories are as difficult and blurry both in beers and coffee. If you are into coffee, you already dealt with this learning the differences between latte, cappuccino, macchiato, flat white, and so on.
The same happens with beers. Porters, stouts, and brown ales have each several variations, making it quite challenging to learn the differences between them.
That said, coffee beers tend to be stouts and porters, as the dark colors seemed reasonably appropriate when the coffee beer fever started in the 1990s. Currently, you can find coffee beers in lighter shades, not only in brown ales, but lagers and pale ales too.
Brewing Coffee Beers
Roasting is behind the delicious taste of coffee beers. Arguably that’s the only way that “coffee beers” without coffee could exist.
We tend to associate roasty and smokey taste and aroma with coffee. The main reason for this might be that dark roasted coffee blends are the most available.
So, it comes to no surprise that some brewers argue that you can make “coffee beers” without coffee. Emulating the roasty taste and smell of black coffee, skillful brewers can obtain the signature taste from malt and barley.
In any case, the darkest beers usually use a specific combination of malt and roasted barley.
Additionally to the barley roast, the coffee dose plays an important role in the coffee beer color, body, and taste.
Beer style determines brewer decisions here. Stouts and porters combine amazingly well with coffee, but they come with a intense flavor themselves. For this reason, they require more coffee to achieve a balanced result. In contrast, lighter beers like lagers and pale ales use less coffee as both taste and color wise.
The techniques and recipes to combine coffee and beer may seem endless, but most brewers use variations of drip coffee and cold brew. A few use espresso for their beers, as it’s considerably harder. The latter is, for sure, a good alternative for home brewers; it isn’t too practical for brewing coffee beers at scale.
Drip coffee has the advantage of its simplicity, with the downside of its relative mild taste and weak body. For this reason, cold brew has been considered a favorite among many brewing enthusiasts and craft beer companies.
The moment to add the coffee beans can occur at any moment of the brewing process. Some decide to steep the coffee grounds with the grain at the beginning of the process. Others, during the boil, in the primary or secondary fermentation. While several brewers do it right before bottling.
Following these recipes and methods produce different flavors, and subtleties in the aroma transform depending on these decisions.
Accordingly, the latest coffee enters the process, the stronger its presence will become in the resulting beverage.
Brewers send us a heads up here. Using coffee requires to take extra care to avoid cloggings and complicating cleaning after each brew. Additionally, if using espresso, most brewers agree on the importance of using freshly pulled espresso.
Caffeine content in coffee beers
A cup of coffee may contain a wide range of caffeine levels, depending on the coffee species (Arabica, Robusta, Eugenioides), brew ratio and method. On average, a cup of drip machine coffee contains 80 mg of caffeine. Although we tend to drink more concentrated drinks in smaller servings, Turkish coffee and percolated coffee can offer as much as twice as the caffeine content of drip coffee.
That said, coffee beers have caffeine, but in negligible amounts. It usually takes more than 5 pints to get the equivalent of a single cup of coffee. Still, if you’re getting your coffee beer from a brand, remember to check the caffand are also strong-flavoredeine content.
Some brands are experimenting with higher doses of caffeine in their beers, and we wouldn’t like that you get caught by surprise.
The main reason why coffee beers are so low in caffeine content is because the purpose is add aroma and taste to the drink. The goal isn’t to create a stimulant drink in most cases.
Recent product launches tha combine nitro cold brew and stouts have a more intense taste and rich body. Like anything in coffee -and beer- possibilities are nearly endless.
Does Guinness® contain caffeine?
No, the standard Guinness® dark beer doesn’t contain any caffeine. Guinness® is a troublemaker among brewing taxonomists, as it denies to be named as a porter or a stout. Beyond that rebellious character though, the Guinness® is a dark beer without any coffee in it.
A recent product from the company, the Guinness® Nitro Cold Brew Coffee is the only beer with coffee from the company to our knowledge.
Coffee beer has been among us for some time now, but there are still many innovative brewers exploring new avenues in the craft. It’s hard to imagine anything that could stop forward thinkers to create more delicious and interesting coffee beers in the near future.
In the meantime, bear in mind that top quality coffee, in any product, will always improve the final result. Additionally, when brewing coffee beers it’s important to consider ethical sourcing. Craft beers aren’t as vulnerable to exploitative practices, because barley and malt don’t have a history of commoditization and inequality in their value chains. Like it has happened with coffee for a long time.
So, let’s raise that jars for coffee and beer. Take a sip, and enjoy responsibly!