Coffee Beer Week: Coffee in homebrewing

Coffee Beer WeekWhen it comes to brewing with coffee, homebrewers have it good: small-scale brewing makes it easy and affordable to experiment in ways that larger commercial brewers can’t. For instance, you could split a batch into two equal parts for secondary fermentation and add two different types of coffee to compare; you won’t need much coffee for this and you only need a second carboy.

Of course, getting the coffee into your beer is the trick; here’s what several sources have to say about the process:

Charlie Papazian in The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing (2nd edition from 1991) suggests using

…only fresh ground beans and steep (never boil them) during the final 5 minutes before straining and sparging. Another option would be to add freshly ground coffee to the secondary and “cold extract” the coffee essence. How much to use? Give it a shot with half a pound for your first 5 gallons and progress from there.

Al Korzonas in Homebrewing Volume 1 (1997) makes note of using flavored coffees as well as plain, and says:

I recommend steeping between ½ pound and 1 pound of freshly-ground coffee beans in a few cups of boiling water (don’t boil the beans) for 15 minutes or so and then run the liquid through a coffee filter. Then, get another fresh coffee filter and run it through again. You can even do that again a third time. The reason for all this extra filtering is to remove the oils that you are going to get from the beans. If left in the coffee, these oils will ruin your head retention. Add the cooled coffee into the primary at the end of fermentation.

Randy Mosher in Radical Brewing (2004) says, “The best way to use it is with a cold extraction…. Four to 8 ounces (113 to 227 g) of coffee will season a batch.” This cold extract should be added to the secondary for the cleanest flavor. He gives instructions on cold extracting the coffee:

This is a way of getting very smooth coffee flavor to add to your beer. Add 0.5 lb (0.45 kg) ground coffee to 24 ounces of cold filtered water in a sanitized container. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then run the mixture through a coffee filter. All or part of this extract… may be added to your stout.

Personally, I myself would opt for the cold extraction method and add the coffee to the secondary of whatever I’m brewing. If you’re adventurous, you could experiment with different methods—adding the grounds directly to the post-boil steeping or the secondary, cold extracting using a liquor such as vodka (akin to making a Kahlua-type liqueur), or if you’re really feeling experimental, adding whole beans to the secondary.

(I don’t know that I’d recommend this latter method, as the beans themselves contain a lot of oil that will extract into the beer—but I confess I’m curious enough that I might try it myself some time.)

You can get coffee flavors without actually using coffee, of course—roasted barley will impart coffee characters to the beer and is identifiable as such in many Stouts. Adding various coffee liqueurs to the beer will add coffee characters also—as well as boosting the alcohol content of the brew.

What styles of beer can/should coffee show up in? Aside from the obvious use of coffee in Porters and Stouts, here are some other possibilities that spring to mind:

  • Schwarzbier
  • Doppelbock
  • Cascadian Dark Ale
  • Brown Ale
  • Belgian Dark Ales
  • Dark Mild
  • Winter Warmer

Of course, since homebrewing is all about experimenting, there’s no reason you couldn’t add coffee to any beer style. Mocha Pilsner? Java Wit? Why not?