Cold-Brew Beers Percolate

Hard coffees are attracting curious drinkers and expanding beer occasions

San Diego’s Coronado Brewing debuted a cold-brew coffee beer, Early Bird Cold Brew milk stout (pictured), in 2017. Made with local brand Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, the stout is popular year-round.
San Diego’s Coronado Brewing debuted a cold-brew coffee beer, Early Bird Cold Brew milk stout (pictured), in 2017. Made with local brand Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, the stout is popular year-round.

The growing popularity of cold-brew coffee is giving rise to an emerging beer style. And this wave of coffee-based beers—including those made with cold brew, as well as other “hard” coffees—is in turn building a new customer base and creating new beer occasions. Several national brewers launched coffee-themed beers last year, and more offerings appear to be on the way. At least three brewers—Molson Coors Beverage Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., and Coronado Brewing Co.—have partnered with established coffee purveyors on beers that play on cold brew. New Belgium launched Nitro Cold Brew cream ale last fall as part of its Up Next series of quarterly rotational beers. Produced in partnership with Austin, Texas’s High Brew Coffee, Nitro Cold Brew cream ale is described as smooth and refreshing, with each can dosed with liquid nitrogen as it’s filled. According to brand manager of innovation and renovation Clay Hoffman, the initial response to the beer has been positive, and while there are no plans for the brew to return in 2020, it could serve as an inspiration for future New Belgium beers.

San Diego-based Coronado Brewing, meanwhile, was ahead of the curve, debuting Early Bird Cold Brew milk stout—featuring coffee from the local Bird Rock Coffee Roasters—in 2017 as part of its seasonal beer series. “With the popularity of cold-brew coffee, we liked the idea of taking a milk stout and adding coffee, keeping the alcohol low, and making a more refreshing dark beer,” explains marketing director Melody Crisp. The 2019 version of Early Bird used Bird Rock’s Café Del Sol coffee blend, honey, and a touch of cinnamon. Crisp adds that consumer response to Early Bird has been fantastic. “We’re now on our third release and fans are asking for it all year long,” she says.

New and pending entries from major national brewers could break the cold-brew category wide open. Molson Coors’ La Colombe Hard Cold Brew Coffee, produced in partnership with Philadelphia’s La Colombe Coffee Roasters, was still in test market at press time. Packaged in 4-packs of 9-ounce cans, the brew is available in two variants—Black and Vanilla. Pabst Brewing Co.’s PBR Hard Coffee, meanwhile, also in test markets, will reportedly expand nationally this year. Retailers familiar with the brand say consumers have been intrigued by its novelty. “Most people seem hesitant at first, but then they try it and fall in love,” says Nate Strahan, general manager at Atkins Park restaurant and bar in Atlanta, where PBR Hard Coffee is priced at $7 a 16-ounce can. Jimmy DeFrank, beer buyer at Luekens Wine & Spirits, which has six stores in the Tampa area, says demand for the Pabst brand ($11 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans) was very strong last summer, but has since simmered down. But Luekens still looks to capitalize on the cold-brew trend, as it markets the Hard American Coffee cocktail—PBR Hard Coffee with a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey ($5)—at its in-store bar.

More entries are likely. Anheuser-Busch InBev is reportedly preparing Hard & Simple Cold Brew, with 8% ABV, in 16-ounce cans. Ballast Point Brewing Co., meanwhile, has been working on Seaworthy Hard Nitro Brew, but with the brewery scheduled to transition from Constellation Brands to Kings & Convicts Brewing at press time, its status was unclear.

Cold-brew beers allow brewers and retailers to expand beer occasions. Hoffman and Crisp both say the offerings are perfect accompaniments to brunch. “Why not start the day with a cold-brew coffee beer instead of just coffee?” asks Hoffman. At Atkins Park, meanwhile, Strahan says that PBR Hard Coffee is a great late-night pick-me-up. “We’re open until 3 a.m., and a majority of our PBR Hard Coffee sales come between midnight and last call,” he notes.

While Luekens’ DeFrank believes cold-brew beers are a fad, Coronado Brewing’s Crisp sees nothing but opportunity. “With the rise in popularity of cold-brew coffee, it seems like this style of beer has a lot of runway,” she says. “We’re looking forward to many future iterations of Early Bird Cold Brew milk stout.”