Before you commit any of your hard-earned dollars to purchasing Most Important Beverage of the Day or Beverage of Champions, I want you to know the ins and outs of these beers, how we make them, why we love them, and what you can expect to taste.
The announcement of these two beers means that coffee beer season at SOB is upon us.
Making Most Important Beverage of the Days starts with brewing a full-bodied, roasty, chocolatey milk stout. We use Golden Promise base malt, a premium Scottish variety known for its mellow sweetness and nutty complexity. To that, we add, in descending order by proportion, British roasted barley, chocolate malt, pale chocolate malt, and dark Munich malt. We mash at a fairly low temperature to produce wort as fermentable as possible given the quantities of specialty malt and lactose in the beer. In the kettle, we add over two pounds per barrel of lactose and a modest amount of Centennial hops for mild flavor and aroma to support the orange peel we add later. We keep the bitterness low to tip the balance towards sweetness. In the whirlpool, we add sweet orange peel at the rate of two pounds per barrel.
We end up with wort around 22 degrees Plato, oxygenate heavily, and ferment with our house American ale strain at seventy degrees. After primary fermentation is complete, we make a sweet orange peel tea with one pound per barrel (of the total volume of beer) of orange peel steeped in near-boiling water. We allow for extraction overnight, then cool the tea and add the liquid portion to the fermentation vessel. This tea smells and tastes incredible, like a cross between Cointreau and Fruity Pebbles. We prefer this method to “dry-hopping” with orange peel because we can better limit oxygen pickup and reduce the risk of infection. We then cold-crash the beer in the fermentation vessel and fine for clarity. While the beer is maturing, we brew the coffee for the beer. This year, we made the coffee in a single-walled beer serving tank using a cold-brew method. We bagged the grounds in fine nylon mesh, saturated them to bloom, then tied them off above the vessel floor to allow for trouble-free transfer of the brewed coffee. We allowed the coffee to brew overnight, then used gas pressure to push the cold brew into the brite tank as we simultaneously racked the beer from the fermentation vessel in order to promote thorough mixing. We force carbonate the beer and package it in bottles and kegs.
Beverage of Champions is created by racking a portion of the fully fermented and fined beer from the fermentation vessel to bourbon barrels–Dickel in this case. We aged this year’s batch ten months in bourbon barrels, tasting them occasionally and waiting for the right constellation of fullness of body and new caramel, vanilla, coconut, and oak flavors from aging. We hit on that profile in a tasting in early December and made the decision to rack the beer, lining up perfectly with the release of the new batch of Most Important Beverage of the Day. Once we rack Beverage of Champions from barrels, we add cold-brewed coffee and sweet orange peel tea to keep those bright flavors bright and in the appropriate proportions.
In both previous batches of Most Important Beverage of the Day, we used Ljulu Lipati – Zambia, but Intelligentsia didn’t purchase that coffee this year. We had the challenge of selecting a new coffee to blend. Would we try to match the profile of last year, aim for something different, or select the coffee that contributes to the best version of the beer possible? We chose the latter.
Jay Cunningham at Intelligentsia is our coffee sherpa. He has an incredible palate and a ton of knowledge about coffee from his decades of experience selling coffee in the Midwest and buying it at origin. Jay and I like blending with coffees that are bright, fruity, and generally weird. We select for coffee that produces a cold brew with a lot of structure from acidity and minerality. Because we add brewed coffee to finished beer, we’re diluting the intensity of beer’s alcohol, mouthfeel, body, sweetness, and so on. Making sure the coffee adds something in place of what we’re taking away is very important. Beyond structure, we focus on finding really bright flavors like ginger, tamarind, hibiscus, tangerine, guava, passionfruit, blueberries, and so on. Flavors like these really pop in a beer and add something more than roasty, chocolatey, caramel-like flavors you might associate with coffee and coffee beers. In a stout like this, we don’t find adding more of the flavors we already obtain from dark malts to be very interesting. That’s why I love working with Intelligentsia: their selection of single-origin coffees that they source directly offers an incredible palette of flavors with great depth, range, and focus. There’s always something that’s perfect for the job at hand, and usually we’re spoiled with several great options.
When two waves of opposite phase interfere with each other, they reduce, rather than intensify, the overall signal.
To select the coffee for any particular beer, we like to have the finished beer on hand, but sometimes, like in this case, pulling an uncarbonated sample from the fermentation vessel is as close as we can get. Jay brews a half dozen or so varieties of coffee, and we get to blending and tasting. We usually start around a 13:1 ratio of beer to coffee, and nearly always settle somewhere between 10:1 and 15:1. There are cases where a coffee on paper seems to be an ideal candidate, but just doesn’t work. There’s a Colombian variety from Intelligentsia, for example, loaded with flavors like carob, hibiscus, and cherry cola. We’ve tried and tried to match this really interesting coffee with beer, and nearly always come up short. The problem can be described with a principle of physics: destructive interference. When two waves of opposite phase interfere with each other, they reduce, rather than intensify, the overall signal. This explains dead spots in music venues and the technology used in noise-canceling headphones and anti-glare coatings, as well as the “dead spots” we find in the flavor of some beer and coffee combinations. Trying to match similar flavors in coffee and beer usually leads you to a case study of destructive interference. We came across one such pairing this time, where all the brightness in the beer and coffee canceled each other out, leaving a cola-like sweetness that was dull and uninteresting compared to other blends and the individual components.
The blend we hit on that we loved this time was 13:1 with Tikur Anbessa – Ethiopia. Intelligentsia describes the flavor profile with honeysuckle, kiwi, and ripe pear. In our tasting, we noted the coffee’s exceptional structure, with an acidity and minerality approximating the feeling of bridging a weak nine-volt battery on your tongue. Blended with our base beer, we tasted new flavors that weren’t there in either ingredient: grilled pineapple and Tang crystals. Wrap those up in milk chocolate and you have a sense of what’s waiting for you in this beer. We used Tikur Anbessa in both Most Important Beverage of the Day and Beverage of Champions.
To brew the coffee for this beer, we start with the volume of beer to determine the volume of cold brew necessary to blend at 13:1. From there, we back out the pounds of coffee necessary to brew at our preferred rate of 1.3 pounds per gallon of water, accounting for absorption of about a quart of water per pound of coffee. We end up using over three pounds of coffee per barrel of beer.
Keep Cold, Drink Fresh
As always, our beers are unfiltered and unpasteurized, so we remind you to treat them as perishable. We recommend keeping these cold and drinking them fresh. Cellaring is not advisable due to the bright, highly volatile flavors and aromas we take great pains to showcase in these beers, as well as the very high content of residual sugar and relatively moderate alcohol content in these beer.
The pre-sale for Most Important Beverage of the Day and Beverage of Champions will begin Wednesday, December 21 at noon CST. The link to purchase and additional information will be available here.
Sometimes at the brewery we listen to rock and sometimes we listen to rap. On occasion you might hear some jazz, pop, or a splash of early punk. The important thing to realize is that we’re always lively. Always accomplishing something. Always planning for what we hope will not be your favorite new thing, or the brewery’s favorite new thing, but our favorite thing together. Never complacent and always adapting. Changing the world, probably.