Starbucks has a new coffee drink that blends craft beer with espresso, called the Espresso Cloud IPA. Designed to showcase the possibilities of a Starbucks that also serves booze — the Starbucks Evenings locations do — the Espresso Cloud IPA marries a shot of espresso to a glass of craft IPA.
The drink, which reportedly took more than a year of development in the Starbuck R&D lab, isn’t just a shot-in-a-beer. The espresso is first shaken with ice and flavorings (it’s sweetened and spiced with orange peel and vanilla), and the resulting froth is spooned atop a tall glass of IPA. The remaining espresso is served as a sidecar in a shot glass to be poured into the beer. It’s dramatic and inventive, but is it delicious?
The IPA used for the drink depends on what each Starbucks Evenings location has on hand. When we visited the Hollywood Starbucks on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, the classic Bear Republic Brewing Racer Five IPA was the “craft beer of the week.” Showcasing old-school American aroma hop varieties, the pine-and-citrus flavor of the IPA was well matched to the orange peel-infused espresso. The coffee’s added sweetness rounded the bitter edge of the IPA, while that signature acrid roast of the espresso brought the drink back into balance. Flavor wise, the Espresso Cloud IPA is more coffee-drink than beer-drink. Surprisingly, the main impression was of a chocolatey burnt-orange, with the hoppy IPA providing background flavor and some lightening effervescence.
It’s certainly an interesting experience. Far from the paper cups and grab-and-go culture of Starbucks, the Espresso Cloud IPA is delivered via a green-aproned barista on a tray. The coffee froth that initially tops the beer is firm, almost like a meringue, and intensely flavored. Pouring the espresso into the beer provokes a surge of more foam that travels up and out of the glass. It’s fun, but it isn’t the easiest beverage to actually drink. The stiff foam sticks to the upper lip, the nose and the beard and mustache (if you’re so equipped). After a few sips, when the towering column of foam drops below the rim of the beer glass, the sipping gets marginally easier, but we still struggled to drink the Espresso Cloud IPA with grace.
The final verdict? The Espresso Cloud IPA is gimmicky, but it’s also pretty tasty. Maybe a little sweeter than we’d prefer, but overall it manages to be both refreshing and stimulating. If you love the intersection of coffee and beer, the offering from Starbucks is worth a try. For just $6 you get a bottle of IPA and a ristretto espresso shot, not to mention all the fun of role-playing a potion-mixing mad scientist.
Whether or not you assign a trend-friendly acronym a la the PSL to the drink — maybe ECI or ECIPA — is up to you.
The Espresso Cloud IPA is available now at Starbucks Evenings locations.