Craft beer featuring coffee was once a bold, even daring, combination — but that flavor pairing has become nearly as common as amber ales. Brewers haven’t finished mining the cafe menu for inspiration though, and there's a new wave of beverage-inspired beers that showcase flavors more often found in the spice rack or corner coffee shop.
Here are three brews that will have you asking if this is even really beer in the first place.
Chai: Chai-spiced Imperial Russian Stout - Stone Brewing Co.
This spiced version of Stone’s spring-time stout is a part of the Escondido brewery’s “Odd Beers for Odd Years” program that sees the Stone brewers cut loose on some of their seasonal releases every odd year. (2015 has also seen an Extra-Hoppy Old Guardian Barley Wine, and back in 2013 there was a wonderful espresso-infused Imperial Russian Stout.)
Chai spiced IRS infuses cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, black pepper and black tea into the already full-flavored stout. There’s a lot going on in this 10%-alcohol brew, but the roasty coffee notes that usually dominate the IRS still peek through all that extra spice. It’s like a boozy dirty chai. If you’re not into the whole chai-spice thing, the traditional version of the Imperial Russian Stout is also available alongside its Odd-Year companion.
Horchata: Or Xata - The Bruery
Orange County’s The Bruery has brought back its take on the ubiquitous cinnamon-spiced agua fresca served from trucks and corner taco joints, and Or Xata is a remarkably on-the-nose version of that beverage.
Sweet, but not cloying, and assertively spiced without losing complexity, the 7%-alcohol Or Xata is lightened with rice and embellished with milk sugar. It was tailor-made for pairing with all manner of Mexican dishes, and for a magical match try it with some mole poblano tacos (preferably from Guisados). Bottles are available at better bottle shops around town, but they won’t last long.
Kombucha: Lambrucha - Vanberg & DeWulf
A fan of fermented tea? Ever wish that kombucha had a little more kick? Try this bizarre combination of kombucha and spontaneously fermented beer. Created by Belgian beer aficionado and importer Don Feinberg, Lambrucha takes the funky tartness of kombucha tea and blends it with the funky tartness of lambic beer.
The result is, as you can imagine, extra funky and tart. It is under 4% alcohol, and billed as “refreshing” in the marketing copy, but the flavor is lively and inescapable. It may not be universally loved, but you can’t deny the uniqueness of the flavor and inventiveness of the beverage; it’s certainly worth experimenting with if you’re looking for a truly wild beverage.