Craft beer and specialty coffee share many things — a common passion for ingredients and process, an obsessed culture of drinkers, and both have put the US on the map in terms of culinary innovation. Last year, we created an event called Uppers & Downers in Pasadena, CA to celebrate this crossover, and now we're taking it all the way.
Uppers & Downers is a collaboration between Intelligentsia Coffee of Chicago and Good Beer Hunting, exploring the overlap between these two American phenoms. And we're doing it in the drink. Intelli's Stephen Morrisey (my denim-clad beard twin in these photos) and I hashed out the plan over a many beers and espressos — we're creating a culture that celebrates coffee, beer, and coffee beers — as well as the many concoctions made possible through pushing the category.
The first event in the 2014 series was Roast, hosted at Intelligentsia's roastery on Chicago's west side. Sharing a wall with the Goose Island production brewery, Intelligentsia has a long history of collaborating with brewers. While most brewers are accustomed to choosing a particular varietal and cold brewing to a specific blending proportion with coffee collaborators, rarely does the conversation turn to the actual roasting. But as anyone in coffee knows, this is a major part of the process that determines flavors, aromas, and even mouthfeel in a brew.
In the run-up to the Uppers & Downers homebrew competition on August 29th, we wanted to provide people with a full view of the roasting process, helping them understand how integral the quality of the roast really is, and how you can use it to develop a coffee beer. From green, to light, to medium, and dark, each step of the roasting process provides completely different attributes. Attendees of the Roast session walked away with the same Rwandan varietal, but roasted to three different levels to experiment with at home.
Lighter roasts, for which Intelligentsia is well-known, offer brighter, delicate acids on the palate, often including citrus notes, or berry fruits, depending on the origin (the next event in the series covers origins). As the roast darkens, you can achieve a more weighty mouthfeel, chocolate and caramel notes, and eventually carbonic acids with an ashy aftertaste. While most of what we taste in stout or porter coffee beers is the "roasty" qualities of a coffee, there's clearly much more to explore, especially starting at the roast level.
As a special treat, Dan Floyd of Intelligentsia, who is also a homebrewer, shared a prototype of a carbonated cold brew coffee he's been working on. The carbonation elevated some of the more acidic and floral qualities of the coffee, much the way it does in beer, helping delicate flavors dance on the tongue and aromas jump into the nose. All I could think about was the possibility of coffee radlers.
Up next is Origin — an event held at Intelligentsia's soon-to-open Wicker Park Cafe. Hosted by Geoff Watts, one of the forefathers of the direct trade movement. We'll taste through different regions, experiencing what elevation, cultivation, and terroir do for coffee, long before it ever gets on a boat. We'll also taste some recent coffee beer experiments from local brewers, and a steeped coffee fruit cider from Virtue Cider and the MadCap Coffee Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ryan Burk and Ryan Knapp (respectively) are going to make this coffee cider live at the event, and create a special cocktail to close out the night.