photo credit: New Hampshire Coffee Roasting Co.
Coffee and beer are perhaps the two things most synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. Given the fondness for both, it’s not exactly surprising that the two beverages often merge into one. Hell, there’s even a place in Portland called Coffee Beer. The bold flavor of coffee lends itself particularly well to darker beers like porters and stouts, which are best enjoyed (although not exclusively) in the wintertime. That’s why it’s the ideal time to highlight some of the most delicious combinations of beans and brew available from breweries around the Northwest. This list is by no means a comprehensive rundown of every coffee beer made in Oregon and Washington, and it purposely does not include barrel-aged beers because that would be another list entirely. It is, however, a list of coffee beers you should definitely seek out and taste, and maybe it will get you excited for the annual NW Coffee Beer Invitational taking place on January 26 at the Goose Hollow Inn.
Block 15 Brewing Co: Cosmic Coldbrew
This year the fellas down in Corvallis decided to can one of their most beloved beers and grab our attention with a snazzy label. This beer is black as an Oregon winter night, yet it isn’t too syrupy. Right away you’re hit with a strong coffee aroma that comes from cold water-extracted Guatemalan Los Cedros beans, complementing the hints of chocolate and hearty roastiness. Considering this is a stout, it’s pleasant to find it drinks about as smooth and light as actual cold brew coffee, which means when you need that afternoon jolt on a dreary winter day you should probably just reach for a can of this Cosmic goodness.
Ruse Brewing: Wafel Iron
Let’s be honest, pastry stouts are one of the most overrated trends in the craft beer scene right now. That being said, Ruse absolutely knocked it out of the park when they collaborated with California’s Moksa Brewing for this big boozy beast. The two breweries drew inspiration from the iconic and yummy Dutch treat stroopwafel. Indeed, flavors of caramel and sweet dough shine through yet manage avoid that artificial taste that plagues so many pastry stouts. Portland’s own stroopwafel purveyor Prince Coffee also helped out with coffee and stroopwafel syrup, and the bitterness of the coffee manages to balance out the sweetness. It also gets you pretty wired and makes you forget this easy-drinking beer clocks in at 11%. Wafel Iron is not just perfect for winter weather, it’s also one of the best sweet imperial stouts this writer has tried to date, proving once again that Ruse is quickly emerging as one of Portland’s best breweries.
Bale Breaker Brewing Company: Dormancy
From a brewery known for their hoppy offerings comes a coffee-forward stout that is anything but dormant. In fact, the name is a reference to the hop fields that fill the Yakima Valley and allow Bale Breaker to produce some of the freshest IPAs around. Aimed at waking you up, this “breakfast stout” was conditioned on locally-roasted coffee beans from Yakima’s Lincoln Avenue Coffee Co. The beer is fairly simple in a good way with coffee, malt and chocolate as the dominant flavors, but there are also hints of smoke and vanilla that shine through, and zero syrupy sweetness.
Coldfire Brewing Company: Affogato Coffee Cream Ale
Affogato, that beautiful marriage of vanilla ice cream and espresso, lends itself naturally to getting beerified. At Eugene’s Coldfire they decided to double down on the creaminess by brewing a coffee cream ale with traditional ingredients to mimic the flavor of that classic dessert in beer form. To make it happen, they infused the a smooth-drinking cream ale with milk sugar and cold processed Colombian coffee. The result is a beer that marries a pleasantly simple dessert with a classic style of beer.
Fort George Brewery: Waves of Silence
As anyone who has ever experienced a flight at the Astoria brewery’s Stout Month every February can attest, Fort George kills the stout game. With a trippy can design, this latest canned offering is also one of their finest to date. Clocking in at a whopping 9% ABV, this beer pours like motor oil and has a wonderfully bright flavor that comes from the adjuncts of brown sugar, orange peel, Dutch cocoa, and of course a shitload of coffee beans, not to mention one hell of a malt bill. There is a lot going on with beer and yet one ingredient never overwhelms the other. Let Fort George set the example for how to properly brew an imperial stout. One can only imagine how tasty a barrel-aged version of this beer would be.
Reuben’s Brews: White Elephant
The Seattle brewery offers a unique take on the pastry stout with a monstrously boozy blond stout that draws its inspiration from those most delectable treats, coconut macaroons. Cocoa nibs and coffee collide with a wave of sweetness and creaminess that comes from the addition of coconut and lactose. The brewery calls this beer “decadent”, and that feels like a fitting descriptor.
Laurelwood Brewing Co: Chocolate Espresso Stout
Laurelwood’s Espresso Stout is a fairly straightforward take on a coffee beer, with that classic symbiosis of bold, bitter espresso and dark roasted malt. With the chocolate version they up the richness and go for something sweeter. Coming in a bit on the lighter side (at lease compared to the other stouts on this list), this is a beer that is all about drinkability and balance. Laurelwood isn’t trying to smash the box and turn heads – they are just giving us something simple that doesn’t knock you over with booze and a flavor profile that reads like a Game of Thrones novel.
pFriem Family Brewers: Golden Coffee Pale
The Hood River brewery sticks to its forte with a pale ale bursting with citrus flavors courtesy of a generous amount of Equinox and Motueka hops. Where things get interesting is the addition of Kenyan coffee from Portland’s Coava Coffee. Like many of pFriem’s beers, this is eminently crushable and makes you wonder why the whole coffee pale ale thing never became trendier. It’s also tricky to find, so if you do come across it, make sure you snatch up a few bottles.
Sasquatch Brewing Co.: Cold Shot
Teaming up with Bridgetown Coffee, Sasquatch has crafted a rich, full-bodied yet dry porter that allows the mellow buzz of cold-pressed coffee shine through. The cool part is the way they let the low acidity of the cold brew coffee intermingle with the roasty characteristics of the porter. There’s also a touch of smoke, but this beer mostly stays true to form and also gives you a solid jolt that could only come from adding a whole bunch of cold brew.
Wayfinder Beer: Colombian Hell Coffee Lager
If you saw our best of 2018 article then you know Wayfinder is on fire these days. Leave to the heavy metal and lager loving freaks down by the river to flip coffee beer on its ass. Instead of going for a style of beer that lends itself naturally to the flavors and aromas of coffee, Kevin Davey and co have taken their esteemed and insanely underrated Hell Lager and thrown in Colombian coffee with help from Spelle Caffé. The result is crisp, snappy, and with just a subtle hint of coffee – not to mention a little jolt from the caffeine – it is best enjoyed with lunch or while pregaming before a Friday night death metal show.
Modern Times: Ponderous Climate
One would expect a brewery that also roasts its own coffee to be pros when it comes to brewing with beans, and this is basically the case with Modern Times. As one user on Untappd aptly commented, “Coffee freaks apply here…I can taste the bean.” With this Ponderous Climate, the Modern Times Belmont crew keeps it pretty standard. But what truly sets it apart is the fact that they used this loads of their own Heavy Weather Winter Blend coffee, which includes some rum barrel-aged beans. They didn’t pile on any sweetness, instead opting for a more bitter but still balanced and drinkable winter brew.