Written by Greg Kitsock for Washingtonpost.com
Two years ago,Â 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 â€œblindâ€ tastings and surprise their friends.
A few news services might have picked up the item, but if they had checked the dateline, April Foolâ€™s Day, they would have known they were being pranked. A golden stout? Câ€™mon.
Except thatÂ Barrett Lauer, head brewer at theÂ District ChopHouse & Brewery, has actually crafted a beer along those lines: â€œa light-colored beer that tastes dark,â€ as he phrases it.
Beaâ€™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 doesnâ€™t have the roasty character that Iâ€™d associate with a stout, but to call it porter-ish wouldnâ€™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 â€” a special blend of Ethiopian Sidamo, Rwandan and Nicaraguan beans fromÂ Qualia Coffee, a small independent roaster and coffee shop in Petworth.
Andrew Passell, who describes himself as â€œassociate roast monkey,â€ explained that Qualia roasts its beans lightly compared to other shops, avoiding the â€œcarbonized, toasted flavorsâ€ and bringing out the â€œterroirâ€ 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 Qualiaâ€™s opening three years ago. The ChopHouse blend he helped create isnâ€™t being offered for sale, but he saw no reason why Qualia couldnâ€™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.
Beaâ€™s Brew, incidentally, clocks in at 7.3 percent alcohol by volume. That number is significant, says Lauer: It also happens to be his daughterâ€™s birth weight.