It’s No Joke: “a Light-Colored Beer That Tastes Dark”

Written by Greg Kitsock for

Bea's Brew includes a special blend of coffee beans from Qualia in Petworth. (District Chophouse)
Two years ago,  Stone Brewing Co. made a video announcing a new product called BrewDog/Stone Luciferin Golden Imperial Stout, a strong golden ale brewed with coffee and cacao nibs to mimic the flavor of a much deeper-hued beer. Only 2,000 bottles were packaged, each with a blindfold attached so buyers could conduct their own “blind” tastings and surprise their friends.

A few news services might have picked up the item, but if they had checked the dateline, April Fool’s Day, they would have known they were being pranked. A golden stout? C’mon.

Except that Barrett Lauer, head brewer at the District ChopHouse & Brewery, has actually crafted a beer along those lines: “a light-colored beer that tastes dark,” as he phrases it.

Bea’s Brew (Lauer named it after his infant daughter, born in January) is golden-amber in color, and the first sip really does cause some cognitive dissonance. There is a subtle but noticeable whiff of fresh-brewed espresso (a flavor I usually associate with chestnut and ebony-colored beers), some minor notes of peat and maybe a hint of smoked bacon. A rich, smooth, toffeeish malt body holds the bitterness in check though. The beer doesn’t have the roasty character that I’d associate with a stout, but to call it porter-ish wouldn’t be too far-fetched. If my eyes had been closed, I might have ascribed that initial sip to a lightly smoked German-style Rauch-Marzen or Rauch-Bock.

To obtain these flavors without darkening the beer, Lauer used a smidgen of Bamberger beechwood-smoked malt and peat-smoked malt, about two pounds out of a grist of more than 500 pounds. He also cold-steeped a nylon sack full of coffee in the fermenter — a special blend of Ethiopian Sidamo, Rwandan and Nicaraguan beans from  Qualia Coffee, a small independent roaster and coffee shop in Petworth.

Andrew Passell, who describes himself as “associate roast monkey,” explained that Qualia roasts its beans lightly compared to other shops, avoiding the “carbonized, toasted flavors” and bringing out the “terroir” of the beans. The Sidamo would have contributed some cherry or blueberrylike flavors, he noted, while Rwandan coffee would have imparted some citrusy, grapefruit overtones.

Passell is a homebrewer and recalls brewing a coffee porter to celebrate Qualia’s opening three years ago. The ChopHouse blend he helped create isn’t being offered for sale, but he saw no reason why Qualia couldn’t mix some up special for a customer, as long as he or she brought a sack to tote it home.

Besides coffee, Lauer added golden raisins and cacao nibs to the beer for extra sweetness and body, then fermented with a Chimay yeast. He hopes to offer a nitrogenated version in the coming weeks and to squirrel away a few firkins of a cask-conditioned version for some special event.

Bea’s Brew, incidentally, clocks in at 7.3 percent alcohol by volume. That number is significant, says Lauer: It also happens to be his daughter’s birth weight.

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