Resolutions: Coffee Beer and Coffee in the New Year

One of the best things about being a regular somewhere is getting to know the people at your local haunt. You learn that X bartender or barista is a bit of a nerd or Y server is an actor or Z cashier is also from your home state and would kill for some green chile1.

Yes, I’ve learned all of those things and more about various people who work at assorted places I am or have been a regular.

One of the other wonderful things about being a regular is that these same people get to know you a bit. They geek out with you over a Neil Gaiman book or swap recipes with you. Or, in the case of the junior brewers at Goose Island Clybourn (GIC), they slip you a sample of a then-soon-to-be-released coffee beer (Resolutions), and send you home with a bag of the coffee they made into that beer for your coffee-nerd husband.

Mystery Coffee from Crop to Cup

Of course, you know what this means. We have the coffee. We have the means to brew it. And we have access to the beer. WE HAVE TO SHARE WITH YOU ALL THE TASTING NOTES!

Draft Beer

First and foremost, let me say I am continually amazed by how different beer can be from day to day. I notice it less in bottled beer, though it happens, and more in draft beers. I don’t know the chemistry behind the taste changes, though I assume at least some of it is oxidation reactions, but I’m fascinated.

So in the interests of full disclosure, by the time I sat down to take “srs bzns” tasting notes I was on my third time tasting this beer. The first time was a couple days or so before the second time, and the second time was the day before the third time.

I mention this mostly because the memories of my first Resolutions sample (the one the junior brewers slipped me) are, for some reason, the strongest. There was roastiness on the finish, but mostly there was a long & deep taste of chocolate. It was heavy and wonderful. This is the kind of beer that got me into craft beer, but not quite. Because there was also this powerful aroma of coffee, and bits of non-hop bitterness I would have found quite off-putting back in the day. These days, I joke that coffee beer might be my gateway to coffee.

Resolutions coffee beer, made with Crop to Cup coffe.

However, four days later? That chocolate had seriously toned down and the coffee had sprung to the fore. First, in the aromas off the beer. There was definite “coffee” there, but also a strong roasty smell. I realized I actually couldn’t tell if that was roasted malt scent, roasted coffee scent or the combined scent of them both. I wondered if they’d smell different if I had a chance to sniff them side by side or similar because of the char. There was a faint hint of the chocolate I’d loved so much in the first taste I had, but I couldn’t tell you if that was real or remembered aroma.

I drank this beer slowly, which means I got to taste it at the cold temperature right off the draft lines all the way to room temperature. This is another way in which I find the changes in beer fascinating2; the impact temperature has on the flavors and smells can be quite dramatic.

Cold, this beer mostly tasted of “roast” and had alcoholic and carbonated tingles right on the tip of my tongue. The coffee was there, faintly, but wasn’t strongly in play until the beer warmed up some. Once it had warmed up, but remained chilly to the touch, the coffee notes came out quite strongly. It considered being a breakfast beer, but was more of an “after dinner espresso beer”. The chocolate flavors I wanted remained just barely there, but mostly elusive.

Eventually, the beer warmed to only mildly chilly, and the chocolate notes made their entrance as a distinct background player to the even stronger coffee flavor, and the “roast” flavors came back full-bore, and lingered in the back of my throat. Finally, in the warmer states, there was an odd, unexpected, and completely delightful tartness to the beer on the middle of my tongue. I have no idea what that was, but I would have liked it to come out and play some more. Once it got to room temperature, the coffee bitter notes came out, and dominated everything. So don’t drink this beer quite as slowly as I did.

AeroPress Coffee

Much like the beer, I’d had a few sips of this coffee before I actually sat down and decided to pay attention to what I was tasting. Bill has brewed it a few times, starting Tuesday morning, and we’ve discussed what we were having.

First, we both agreed we were surprised that the coffee was not as stale as we expected. In truth, because we weren’t sure how long ago the beer had been brewed, nor how the beans were stored, we’d both had an expectation of staleness. I figure there’s three possibilities here: 1) the beer took a lot less time to brew than expected, 2) the nice guys at Crop to Cup sent Jarrod extra beans after the GIC team had brewed this beer, or 3) these beans retain their volatiles in an impressive fashion and we’d be astounded at their flavor fresh3.

AeroPress coffee maker on top of mug.

As the coffee was brewing today, I couldn’t help but tell Bill, from across the room, I loved the way it smelled. He laughed at me and said I’d made that comment every time he’d made the coffee. Thus it was incredibly strange that as I took a whiff of it out of my coffee mug, I thought I hated the smell. It smelled like the coffee was going to be astringent. No, I don’t know precisely what that aroma IS, but I know I associate it with astringent things, so that’s what you get.

Straight out of the AeroPress, this coffee was quite nutty on the tongue, with a lingering roasty flavor in the back of my throat. I can HEAR Jarrod demanding I tell him what kind of nuts, but it’s difficult to say. Call it some nut I’ve never had, but is related to pecans, “Jarrod-in-my-head”. I want to call it similar to acorns, but since I’ve only had acorns as an ingredient in other things, and even then only that one time, I think I can’t actually say I remember the flavor well enough.

Once this coffee cools a bit, there’s some dark chocolate flavors on the back of the tongue, but the roasted flavors also come out a lot more. Bill and I discussed it a bit, and he told me he likes the coffee, despite it not having a lot of the fruity and acidic notes he tends to prefer in his coffees. He feels like the chocolate notes come from a darker roasted coffee, which might explain my thinking the beer was more of an “after dinner” coffee beer than a “breakfast” coffee beer.

The neatest thing, to me, about the coffee is that the perceived viscosity changes as it cools. It takes on a bigger, thicker mouthfeel as it takes on more of those coffee notes. I told my friend Angelique that you could almost, but not quite, fool yourself into thinking it had the same texture as a traditionally made hot chocolate4.

A Few Comparisons and Comments

I’m fascinated to find that both the beer and the coffee were better at temperatures closer to room temperature than they were poured for me. However, they can’t come to equilibrium. Having accidentally sipped both of them too slowly, I found that room temperature is a terrible thing to do to either drink.

I wonder if the coffee would have been better (or more similar to the beer) with a splash of dairy and/or some sugar. I didn’t choose to add any of either, because I wanted to just taste the coffee, but I’d now be curious about doctoring it a bit. Sometimes sugar can bring out the chocolate notes in coffee.

The beer, more than the coffee, indicated just how much freshness can impact a beer, but past experience with some of Bill’s coffees have lead me to realize that coffee is just as dramatically impacted by freshness, particularly lighter roast coffees. Given the chocolate and roasty notes of this mystery coffee (which I have taken to calling the “Resolutions” blend, in honor of the beer), and the fact that it didn’t seem as stale as we expected, I’m going to guess this was a fairly heavily roasted (very dark) coffee. Please note, this really is just a guess. What I know about the coffee is the photo above, it was blended specially for Jarrod/GIC by Crop to Cup and what I’ve described in the tasting notes.

My final thought is for the coffee alone: I desperately want to try this as a cold-brewed iced coffee. The chocolate notes in both the coffee and the beer came out more in those temperatures in between serving temperature and room temperature, and in the coffee they came out at room temperature as well, strongly, but not enough to off-set the bitter and “blugh” flavors that come out of hot-brewed coffee that’s been allowed to cool. I suspect this would be a lovely iced coffee, any way it’s made, but particularly cold-brewed. I’d give a lot to try it made by our friend Steve, who owns City Grounds, via his special cold brewing techniques. I think it possible that this would be phenomenal that way; possibly crossing into wonderfully confusing “am I drinking a coffee-laced chocolate drink or a chocolate-laced coffee drink territory.”

Bill and I both love a well-done confusing experience. I have a different term for it, but my mother reads this blog sometimes.

fn1. OF COURSE I helped the poor guy out! It’s an unspoken New Mexican commitment: thou shalt share green chile with other transplants.

fn2. As I type this, I find myself thinking, “No wonder I didn’t care if maneless-ness was ‘merely’ phenotypic plasticity. Unexpected changes are neat.” Don’t mind me.

fn3. My guess is the third possibility. The other two don’t make a lot of sense to me.

fn4. Meaning, a hot chocolate made with bar or otherwise actual chocolate, rather than cocoa powder, and water, rather than milk. These can be really delicious, but have a substantially thinner texture than when made with milk and decently thicker than tea or coffee (with a paper filter, Bill points out; metal filters allow in more sediment, thickening the coffee).

5 thoughts on “Resolutions: Coffee Beer and Coffee in the New Year

    • Thank you! I didn’t know you were not a coffee beer person. I actually, I realize, do not know what types of beers you like. I merely know that, unlike Jen, I think of you as a beer drinker.

      What kind of beer do you like?

  1. Pingback: Resolutions v 2.0 | MetaCookbook

    • I had an AWESOME light lager just the other day. Now that I know that’s your thing, I wish you’d been here to share it with me.

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