Brewers have been mixing their buzzes with coffee-fueled beers for decades, but nowhere else in the country does coffee beer quite like Southern California.
The region is home to many fantastic small-batch coffee roasters, and these bean-loving artisans share the flavor-fanaticism that also fuels the craft beer scene. Collaborations between brewers and roasters are increasingly common, and the results range from inky black beers that showcase all the roasted flavors common to bean and barley, to amber ales whose sweetness highlights the more subtle qualities of the coffee.
Coffee beers are an exciting intersection in craft beverages, and they can provide a helpful gateway to coffee lovers looking to develop a taste for craft beer. Here are just a few of the superlative local collaborations that coffee snobs and beer nerds alike will fawn over.
Groundwork — Smog City Brewing Coffee Porter
The flagship ale from the Torrance brewery is a robust American porter that's heavily dosed with fresh beans specially roasted by Groundwork Coffee. The coffee gets infused into the beer for a couple of days during the final cold conditioning, and the resulting brew is deeply roasty, with a subtle acidity and an incredible aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.
It’s a potent combination, and since Brewmaster Jonathan Porter uses about seven pounds of coffee for every 100 liters of beer, a pint of Coffee Porter has about the same caffeine as a small cup of coffee. Bottles are now available year round so you can see what the buzz is all about.
Intelligentsia — Eagle Rock Brewery Stimulus
Proving that coffee beers don’t have to conform to the dark-and-roasty template, this Belgian amber ale uses coffee from the neighboring Intelligentsia Los Angeles Roasting Works. The base beer features nutty toffee flavors and a spicy, fruity yeast character, while the coffee adds a brightness that doesn’t overpower the malt body.
Stimulus comes out every year around Thanksgiving, and this year the brewery has created a gift package containing a bottle of the beer, an ERB/Intelligentsia glass and a bag of the coffee beans used in the beer.
Portola Coffee Lab — Beachwood Brewing Tovarish
Beachwood Brewing has no shortage of gold-standard coffee beers, from their medal-winning Mocha Machine to the Armenian coffee-fueled System of a Stout, but their most beloved may be the bold Tovarish Russian Imperial Espresso Stout with a special roast from Portola Coffee Labs.
Jeff Duggan from the Orange County third-wave coffee company has become one of the go-to collaborators for brewers looking to add specialty coffee to their beer; Portola coffee is featured in a dozen different local beers including Noble Ale Works Naughty Sauce, several concoctions from The Bruery, and all of the aforementioned Beachwood coffee brews.
There's nothing small about the 12% alcohol Tovarish, and the complex flavor, stone-heavy body, and balanced coffee character have made it a fan favorite. Bottles of the Tovarish will be released at both Beachwood locations on Dec. 26, and they're sure to sell fast.
Trystero Coffee — Highland Park Brewery Wake Up
The Atwater Village “nano-roasters” have teamed up with the small-but-ambitious Highland Park Brewery for a couple of coffee infused beers including Griffith J. Griffith Imperial Stout, and the “session coffee beer” Wake Up. While the former is now available at The Hermosillo (the brewery’s attached bar and tasting room), it’s Wake Up that stands out among L.A.’s plethora of coffee-infused beers.
One thing about many coffee beers is their richness and strong flavors can overwhelm the palate after a glass or two. Wake Up was built as a beer that you can return to again and again in an evening. It’s lighter in body than many porters, and it’s delightfully quaffable. The roasty malt flavors are in balance with the roasted coffee flavors, and a growler is about the perfect accompaniment to a treat from Donut Friend, Highland Park’s punk-rock doughnut shop just a few doors down York Boulevard.
Smog City Brewing Tasting Room, 1901 Del Amo Blvd., #B, Torrance.
Eagle Rock Brewery Tasting Room, 3056 Roswell Ave., Los Angeles.
Beachwood Brewing and BBQ, 210 East 3rd St., Long Beach.
Beachwood BBQ, 131 Main St., Seal Beach.
Highland Park Brewery at The Hermosillo, 5127 York Blvd., Los Angeles.