Beer and coffee have long had a working relationship. Overindulgent nights with one often lead to recuperative mornings with the other. However, local brewers and roasters are finding that their products pair nicely in the same cup.
Coffee-flavored beers are nothing new. But as craft beer and craft coffee have taken off in the Twin Cities, the two types of artisanal beverage makers are becoming flavorful bedfellows. At least six metro breweries use local roasters for their cup-of-Joe-infused brews.
“More than anything it’s just because it’s a high-quality product,” said Fulton head brewer Mike Salo of the impetus for using south Minneapolis’ Peace Coffee in its limited release called War & Peace. “Obviously, we like to support local companies as much as we can, but the fact that they have really good coffee that worked really well with this beer and gave the aromatics and flavor characteristics that we wanted, it made sense.”
Family ties didn’t hurt, either. Fulton co-founder Brian Hoffman said his brother-in-law once worked for the fair-trade coffee company, and conversations between the two and a Peace Coffee roaster led to Fulton infusing its Worthy Adversary — a seasonal Russian imperial stout — with a Guatemalan dark roast. The resulting brew, War & Peace (which by now you’d be lucky to find in bars or liquor stores), pours as thick as the Tolstoy novel of the same name and engulfs the tongue in a coffee-and-cocoa mushroom cloud.
Back before Surly blew up, head brewer Todd Haug turned to Coffee & Tea Ltd. owner Jim Cone to help him pick the perfect bean for the year-round Coffee Bender — the java-jolted variant of Surly’s brown ale. “We didn’t want something that would completely destroy the beer character,” Haug said. “In the right ratio, it actually adds very similar flavors that are in the beer, so you have this nice marriage of coffee and roasted character from the chocolate malt.”
Haug lives in the Linden Hills neighborhood, where Cone has run his specialty coffee shop since 1979 (in addition to a Mall of America location) and has known the bean baron for 17 years. Haug and his wife, Linda, served Cone’s coffee at their now-defunct Cafe Twenty Eight, which had a 10-year-run a few doors down from Coffee & Tea Ltd. “Definitely that friendship has been huge and it helps that the money stays local,” Haug said. “And it’s convenient for me to pick it up [laughs], to be honest.”
Similar neighborly sentiments spawned a collaboration beer between northeast Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing Co. and Dogwood Coffee. Indeed brewer Josh Bischoff said owners of the two companies hit it off after the Dogwood crew dropped by to introduce themselves before Indeed opened last August. Bischoff then worked with Dogwood’s Jon Ferguson on the limited edition Burr Grinder, a golden ale that uses a lighter roasted bean, bucking the coffee-beer norm of blending darker beers like stouts and porters with dark-roast coffees.
Dunn Bros co-CEO Skip Fay, whose company’s coffee is used in beers by White Bear Lake’s Big Wood Brewery, St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing and Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater, said such partnerships are natural because their customers often overlap and coffee notes are already prevalent in many beers.
For Big Wood’s Jason Medvec, the decision to use Dunn Bros coffee tailored for its light-bodied Morning Wood coffee stout was largely about freshness. “Instead of having it shipped in from someplace else in vacuum-sealed bags,” he said, “we can get it within hours of being roasted.”
We’re just happy to have an excuse to drink before noon.