Coffee stouts and porters have been made for ages: Roasted and ground beans are steeped in the wort; the rich nuttiness of the coffee offsets the bitterness of the beers’ black patent malt. Sometimes milk sugar is added to a stout to make a coffee cream version. Finally and incidentally, the coffee beans add a little caffeine to the brews.
But earlier in this decade, American entrepreneurs on the lookout for something new noticed clubbers switching from drinking traditional beer or mixed drinks to Red Bull with vodka, and so it was only a matter of time before someone made a run at combining high alcohol malt beverages with caffeine, fruit flavors, and sugar. The logical extreme for this genre were products such as Four Loko, Joose, Max, and Core High Gravity HG.
The effects from drinking these real life versions of Buzz Beer were that some imbibers didn’t get the normal clues they were drunk, like by passing out, and so continued drinking. About two years ago, when these beverages hit their peak of popularity (Four Loko ranked fourth in sales growth among alcoholic drinks in 7-Elevens during this period), the press began reporting that increasing numbers of high school and college kids were hospitalized after drinking the brews. The FDA responded by sending letters to four of the more popular beverage makers warning that since caffeine as an additive derived from coffee hadn’t been approved as safe, they should stop selling their products as they were currently formulated. Se acabo la fiesta.
But all through this product life cycle, which ended with the remaining stock being auctioned as collectables on eBay, craft brewers were making more restrained variations on the theme and today we have an expanding array of caffeinated beers to choose from. And since they get their caffeine from beans, not as a chemical additive, the only reason these beers will be pulled from the shelf is because we will be buying them.
Four of the best locally available caffeinated beers are:
Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout (Lagunitas Brewing Company) – The Petaluma microbrewers took their popular stout, and brewed it with Hardcore Coffee from Sebastopol to make this full-bodied mahogany masterpiece. Slightly nutty with fine caramel and chocolate aromas. 22oz. Bottle $5.49
Mateveza Yerba Mate IPA (Mendocino Brewing Company) Yerba Mate, the South American herbal tea, is added to citrusy mix of Cascade, Centennial, and Simcoe hops to round out this organic India Pale ale. 12oz. Bottle $5.00
Meantime Coffee Porter (Meantime) – This British import uses Fairtrade Araba Bourbon beans from a Rwandan coop to brew this surprisingly light porter. Might just replace your coffee frappe on hot afternoons. 11oz. Bottle $5.00
Ballast Point Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter (Ballast Point Brewing Company) – At 10% ABV, this rich San Diego porter is great for deserts. A mouthful of well-balanced flavors, sweet but not cloying. 22oz. Bottle $10.99