While Tim Consadine’s beer customers are currently enjoying their summer ales, it won’t be long before they’re asking him for their favorite autumn seasonals. “When the weather begins to cool down in the fall, a lot of customers start asking about our coffee beers,” says the general manager of Boone’s Wine & Spirits in Eagle, Colorado. Like other beer retailers around the country, Consadine is witnessing the growing popularity of coffee and coffee-influenced brews, particularly in the fall and winter.
“There’s always been a natural affinity for roasted-ness with beer, particularly in beers that use roasted malts,” says Jody Reyes, owner of WhichCraft, a two-location beer store in Austin, Texas. “Coffee helps bring out those flavors.” Such flavors are the reason Surly Brewing’s Coffee Bender, a coffee-flavored oatmeal brown ale, has risen in popularity in the last decade, according to Jerrod Johnson, brewmaster at the Minneapolis brewery. First produced a decade ago in occasional small batches, Coffee Bender is now available year-round in 4-packs of 16-ounce cans in eight states.
Although coffee notes and flavors in heavier beers like stouts and porters are nothing new, more recent coffee beer releases feature lighter beer styles as their base. “Many times coffee is showcased in big, boozy beers where the flavor profiles can be overwhelmed,” says Ben Ustick, social media manager at Chicago’s Off Color Brewing. The brewery produces several coffee-influenced beers, including Hyper Predator coffee farmhouse ale. “Hyper Predator is a lighter, easy-drinking coffee beer,” Ustick adds. Similarly, Rogue Ales & Spirits recently launched Cold Brew 2.0, a blonde ale infused with Stumptown cold brew coffee. Rogue brewmaster John Maier says it was a more challenging endeavor than pairing coffee with a dark beer, but consumer response has been positive. He describes the new beer, which is packaged in 6-packs of 12-ounce cans ($12), as a lighter, more sessionable version of a coffee beer.
A number of craft breweries are partnering with local coffee roasters on new brews. Off Color recently collaborated with Chicago’s Metric Coffee on its Coffee DinoSmores program, which features a different roaster each season and is one of the brewery’s most popular offerings. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, meanwhile, teamed up with neighboring Four Barrel Coffee last year on Anchor coffee porter, a winter seasonal that blended the brewery’s porter with flash-chilled coffee. And Lamplighter Brewing of Cambridge, Massachusetts has partnered with Longfellows coffee shop—which is housed within the brewery’s taproom—on Cuppa, a British ale infused with cold brew coffee. “We have no use for the space in the taproom at 7 a.m., and the coffee shop and taproom attract a similar crowd,” explains Lamplighter co-founder Cayla Marvil. Cuppa—which is brewed quarterly—is sold at the brewery and around 100 Massachusetts retailers for about $14 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans.
Consadine says he’s seen sales of coffee beers surge recently, and has adjusted his shelves accordingly. Boone’s currently stocks between eight and ten coffee-flavored brews, generally priced at $10-$12 a 6-pack. WhichCraft, meanwhile, offers five to 25 coffee beers, depending on the season, with 6-packs also priced at $10-$12. To help promote complementary taste profiles of beer and coffee, WhichCraft hosted a beer and coffee pairing in cooperation with Austin Roasting Co. last year. And at The Pine Box bar in Seattle, co-owner Ian Roberts says at least one of 30 constantly rotated draft beers is coffee-influenced. Pine Box even produces its own coffee beers via the use of a Randall beer infuser device. “We take dark beers and add coffee beans,” Roberts explains.
Brewers and retailers agree that while coffee beers are trending today, they also have staying power. Indeed, Lamplighter’s Marvil believes sales of the brews are “only going to become more prevalent.” And according to Reyes, “As long as there continue to be coffee drinkers and beer drinkers, there will be coffee beers.”