Home Beer Coffee and chocolate are sneaking into sour beers

Coffee and chocolate are sneaking into sour beers

The nutty, roasty flavors of coffee and cocoa seem like they don't belong in a tart wild ale—until you try it.


Chocolate Gose: Traditional goses are spiked with sea salt, making them the perfect sour style to highlight cocoa flavors. That’s because salinity actually enhances our perception of sweetness, boosting sugary qualities while creating a salty/sweet juxtaposition that can’t be beat—as anyone who’s tasted salted chocolate chip cookies will tell you.

Coffee Wild Ale: Barley spans the flavor divide between coffee beans and dark-hued American sours: toasty, raisiny malt flavors harmonize with similar characteristics in the coffee. “Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee specifically has a lot of funky, dark berry notes,” says New Belgium Brewing Co.’s wood cellar blender, Lauren Salazar. “When we were talking about that varietal at the brewery, it sounded like we were describing Oscar, our dark sour.”

Coffee Berliner Weisse: These German wheat ales become tart during fermentation via bacteria that produce lactic acid (the same stuff that makes yogurt tangy). Certain coffee varieties have similar acidity and flavors that deftly accent a Berliner’s lemony twang. “Having some of the more floral, citrusy and light coffees can really complement a sour beer well,” says Christopher Basso, CEO and brewmaster at Newburgh Brewing Co., which makes C.A.F.E. Sour.


New Belgium Oscar-Worthy Coffee: Oscar, New Belgium’s dark sour ale, picks up bracing acidity and lively funk during the several months it spends fermenting in giant, bacteria-packed wood vats called foeders. A few days of “dry-beaning” with whole Yirgacheffe coffee beans gives it a powerfully earthy, espresso aroma. “The coffee’s totally unexpected, and yet it’s this amazing complement,” Salazar says. “You can’t tell where the sour starts and the beans end.”

Wicked Weed Silencio: Bourbon barrel-aging rounds out the edges of both the aroma and flavor of this ebony-hued sour ale, providing a smooth vanilla note (enhanced by actual vanilla beans) that bridges the divide between hazelnut-heavy coffee and cherry-like tartness. Originally released as part of the Asheville, North Carolina-based brewery’s experimental Canvas Series, Silencio returns as a flagship sour in early July.

Newburgh C.A.F.E. Sour: The “cafe” in this Berliner weisse’s name is actually an acronym—Coffee Acquired From Ethiopia—that alludes to the Yirgacheffe beans with which it is flavored. The connection to the African nation, however, goes deeper: Brewmaster Christopher Basso crafted the brew with gesho leaves and a grain called teff to mimic tella, an ale commonly brewed among Ethiopian tribes.

Greenpoint Enduro: Duromina coffee beans from—guess where?—Ethiopia accentuate the bright lactic character of this 3.5%-ABV Berliner weisse made in collaboration with Lofted Coffee Roasters in Brooklyn. A dose of milk sugar adds even more intrigue to Enduro’s lemon-tart and woody flavor. Savor the brew if you happen to find it on draft: Greenpoint releases just five barrels each year.

8-Bit Ryan’s Temporary Insanity: Video game-themed 8-Bit Aleworks crafted this cocoa-flavored gose at its Avondale, Arizona, brewpub last winter with the malt sugars left over after brewing Mayan Chocolossus, a 12% ABV spiced imperial stout. Kettle-soured with wild yeast and infused with vanilla and chocolate, the brew maintains the light body of a gose while slathering the tongue with baker’s cocoa and salt.

Urban Artifact Abacus: “For us, dark flavors and roast don’t go well with sourness,” says Bret Baker, brewer at Urban Artifact in Cincinnati. With Abacus, he kept things on the sweeter side by spiking the gose post-fermentation with vanilla beans and a pound per gallon of raspberries and fruity/floral cocoa nibs. While the beer has the same pH as a glass of grapefruit juice, the nibs and fruit provide enough sweetness to deftly balance the sip.


Zach Fowle is DRAFT's beer editor. Reach him at zach@draftmag.com.

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