Sunday, February 13, 2011


While many of my days end with beer, every day starts with a cup of coffee. So coffee-infused beer is a welcome case of you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate.

There are two main ways of getting a coffee flavour into beer. One is to add cracked coffee beans into the pre-fermented wort, the other is to add brewed coffee (or espresso). Brewers are interested in adding the flavours and aromas of coffee, not the caffeine (distinguishing these beers from the reportedly awful lager Moonshot, a beer that contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee). Despite this, federal authorities in the US rejected a Lagunitas coffee-based beer in 1995 because coffee wasn't an approved beer additive.

Well, it's approved - and well-established - now, so we're going to take a look at three coffee/espresso beers. Each of these has its own distinct characteristics and takes on the theme.

First up, from Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery, Fuel Cafe. This is a very likeable beer, which isn't as heavy as you'd expect for a stout (admittedly, I think my palate has been corrupted by oatmeal stouts). The subtle coffee flavour of this beer is held in check by a slight sweetness and hints of vanilla that almost makes this taste like a cola when cold. Lakefront recommends this as an accompaniment to dessert, and I can certainly see the appeal there.

Edmonton's Alley Kat brewery isn't afraid to do goofy things with beer, so it's not surprising that their Coffee Porter decides to go big on the coffee. Really, really big. There's a strong, bitter flavour throughout this that almost completely overwhelms the porter. This is a bit of a challenging beer:  enjoyable, but the strength of the coffee flavour means you'll probably stop at one bottle.

Finally, Dieu du Ciel's Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin), a Quebec-brewed imperial coffee stout. I'm not going to hide how much I like Dieu du Ciel, but apparently I'm not alone - this beer is ranked third highest of all Canadian brews on This is an amazing, thick stout with a respectfully strong yet well-balanced coffee aroma and flavour throughout. The beer has a gorgeous, deep colour with deep, warm, roasted flavours from start to finish.

It's tempting to compare these to local coffee establishments. Fuel Cafe is a little bit of Starbucks, a little bit of Tim Hortons. Alley Kat's porter is the extra-strong Sunday morning cup of coffee you make for yourself each week. And Dieu du Ciel's imperial stout is that amazing espresso from the little place down the street where the barista knows you by name.

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