Recipe Twists - Coffee Infusions
A pretty popular beer flavour addition is coffee, with many brewers pairing coffee additions with darker beers such as stouts and porters where the bitter, roast and chocolate flavours of the beer pair well with those of the coffee. That said several notable breweries including Mikkeler, Stone and Aleman have experimented with different beer styles and produced fantastic coffee IPAs, Ambers and Lagers too.
For this edition of Recipe Twists I’ve brewed a Limited Edition, Bourbon Barrel Strong Ale kit, split it into 3 separate 4.5 L (1 G) demijohns and experimented with different techniques to infuse coffee into the beer as explained below.
Note – the dosage rates of coffee below are for 4.5 litres of beer.
Coffee Infusion Techniques
To begin, I brewed the Bourbon Barrel Strong Ale kit as per the instructions up to the step before bottling. Once the gravity read consistently for 2 days, it was time to add the coffee.
1. Whole Beans
Add about 30g of slightly crushed coffee beans into the demijohn and transfer the beer on top of it. The amount of coffee to add using this method varies from recipe to recipe and really depends on taste but 30g should produce a good amount of flavour – only the taste test will tell. This method is often called “dry beaning” using the same process as dry hopping. However with the coffee beans, allow them to infuse for one week before bottling, being careful not to transfer any of the coffee bean debris into your bottles.
I brewed 4 shots (1 mug-full) of espresso, cooled it down to approx. 20°C and added it to the demijohn before syphoning the beer on top of it. I then mixed the coffee and beer in the demijohn and proceeded to bottle and prime the mixture straight away. It can take some time to let the mug of espresso cool, so it’s best to cover the mug with cling film so nothing gets into it, or the beer you’re mixing it with.
3. Cold Steeping
At the same time as I added the hops to the primary fermenter, I put 100g of ground coffee into a fine mesh bag, placed this in a beaker and added cold water – just enough to cover the bag. I covered this with cling film and left this to steep for 3 days until fermentation had finished. I then added the cold brewed coffee to a demijohn, transferred the beer onto it, mixed and bottled immediately. The reason I used cold rather than hot water is to avoid extracting too much bitterness from the coffee which can happen if using hot water.
I gathered 5 Mangrove Jack's colleagues and served up each beer for tasting. I took notes after each beer was tasted and have written them up below:
The ‘dry beaning’ method seems to have worked well as everyone enjoyed the beer, despite the strength of coffee being highest overall. This beer had a powerful aroma - like inhaling a freshly brewed coffee. However it almost overpowered the bourbon, which you probably wouldn't recognise if you didn't know it was there. Intense earthy and chocolate textures balanced well with the caramel on the pallet.
The espresso infused beer also had a distinct flavour of coffee on the nose and on the palate, but with a higher bitterness than the other beers. This bitterness wasn’t off-putting however; it added roasted flavours which did somewhat mask the oakyness of the bourbon barrel. Overall this came out well and you might prefer this method if you like a bitter beer.
All six tasters noted how this beer was distinctly less bitter than the espresso-beer which is what I was aiming for using this method. We also noted this beer’s flavours as the smoothest and as having the best balance – tasting a mix of oak, roasted malt, caramel and the subtle bitterness that comes with coffee. There was some fruity notes on the nose too. Four of the six tasters named this as their favourite and one which they’d be happy to make in higher quantities.
The cold steep method was clearly the winner however and I would recommend this as a well-balanced, great tasting beer, with just the right amount of bitterness. Fortunately I made more than enough for the tasting session so I’ll be taking a couple home for this weekend.
The espresso-beer might be more up your street if you’ve got a preference towards bitterness and I’d also highly recommend trying dry beaning as this allows you to easily play around with how much coffee flavour you want to add. As with any additions to beer, you need to do a bit of experimentation to find your perfect level.
Hopefully this has provided you with some guidelines to work from. I certainly enjoyed researching and experimenting with each method and anticipated the outcome. If you have any other methods of adding coffee to your beer, or have any questions, please let me us know - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember to tag us in on Instagram @mangrovejacks with the hashtag #RecipeTwists so we can see what experiments you’ve been up to.