Purists will tell you that beer should be made with only four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. In fact, this principle was enshrined in the so-called Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, of 1516. Actually, the Reinheitsgebot only listed three; they didn’t know that yeast existed back then. As a matter of fact, nobody knew that yeast (or any other micro-organisms) existed; they simply left their beer in fermentation tanks, open to the air, unknowingly allowing airborne yeast to inoculate their brew.
However, brewers rarely follow the Reinheitsgebot these days. In fact, they use a wide array of additives — natural or otherwise — to varying extents. One of the more common natural additives that many — if not most — craft brewers use is called “Irish moss.” It’s a clarifying agent derived from seaweed, and its electrical charge coagulates haze-forming beer constituents, resulting in a clearer beer.
Some of the less scrupulous megabreweries use more aggressive techniques that sound more suitable for a petro-chemical process than a brewing recipe. For example, Anheuser-Busch injects pure nitrogen into its beer to rid it of the undesirable compound dimethyl sulfide. Also, many brewers clarify their beer using a plastic called “polyvinylypyrrolidone,” which sounds like something out of which you could make shopping cart wheels.
In any case, I think some (more culinary) additional ingredients fit nicely into certain beers’ flavor profiles. In particular, the roasted flavor of coffee can be a nice addition to a darker beer like a porter or stout. In these beers, coffeelike flavors already arise from the roasted malts typically used, but the real coffee flavors add a bit of complexity that I find quite pleasant. This week I checked out two local beers brewed with actual coffee.
My first exposure to Free Will Brewing Co. in Perkasie, Pa., was at XFINITY Live Xtoberfest Saturday, Sept. 28. I really liked their Techno IPA, so I decided to try their Coffee Oatmeal Brown. The first thing I noticed upon pouring it was its murky, dark, amber appearance and almost nonexistent head — a strange appearance for a beer. The coffee dominated the aroma, but some faint malt odors were still detectable. The coffee also dominated the taste of the beer. It was essentially a beer version of an iced coffee, which I didn’t mind because I like both beer and iced coffee. However, if java don’t jive with you, then skip this one.
The second coffee beer I tried was brewed by Philadelphia Brewing Co. in Kensington. It was cleverly named the “Joe Coffee Porter,” and it was brewed with locally roasted, fair-trade coffee. The beer poured a nearly opaque dark black with an off-white head. Crisp malts were noticeable in the aroma, and the beer had a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with medium carbonation. The coffee flavor of the Joe Coffee Porter was definitely less pronounced than that of the Free Will offering. This beer was a nicely balanced porter with a touch of coffee for some added complexity — overall pretty enjoyable.
With midterms coming up, you may want to check out these local caffeinated beers if you’re looking for an extra boost while also getting a head start on post-exam shenanigans! (Editor’s note: The Triangle reminds you to drink responsibly, even during midterms).