Today we’re drinking a coffee beer collaboration from the folks of Spiteful Brewing and Gaslight Coffee Roasters. I was curious how this collaboration came about.
“I first met Tristan [Coulter, founder of Gaslight Coffee] in 2013 at the Good Beer Hunting Goodbeerbuckshot weekend getaway to Wandawega [in Elkhorn, Wisconsin],” Calvin Fredrickson, Spiteful Brewing “business guy #2,” recalls. “I had been to Gaslight many times before meeting Tristan and dug their coffee program, but meeting him outside the context of work was how we connected.
“All of us were there—at Wandawega—as regular dudes who ended up having a lot in common. It didn’t feel like a LinkedIn meet-up. Apart from running a great cafe and roasting works, Tristan is a badass fisherman and wood carver.”
In 2013, Spiteful sourced coffee from Halfwit Coffee Roasters for a coffee stout called I Hate My Boss. Halfwit and Gaslight share a roasting space. So, when the idea for a new coffee beer was proposed, Calvin immediately thought of collaborating with Gaslight. “Being that Spiteful is a nanobrewery, we relate to Gaslight’s commitment to producing a quality, small-batch product here in Chicago,” Fredrickson says.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the GFY Coffee Stout—a collaboration between Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing and Gaslight Coffee Roasters. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Before we get into the GFY Coffee Stout, though, let’s take a few minutes to deconstruct it and individually explore the two components that went into it.
Actually, this isn’t one of the components that went into the GFY Coffee Stout; rather, it’s a variation on that original component. The actual component that went into the coffee stout is simply called GFY Stout—since I couldn’t find that beer at the stores I went to, I made the executive decision to try out the imperial version. I figured that the flavors will probably be more or less the same, but more, well, “imperialized.” I guess.
style: Russian Imperial Stout
ingredients: Maris Otter English malt, chocolate malt, roasted barley, wheat, oat, cascade hops
The aroma of the GFY Imperial Stout is certainly that of a Russian Imperial Stout! My goodness. Huge scents of roasted barley, bittersweet dark chocolate, toffee, oatmeal, and caramelized brown sugar. Visually, the beer is dark black—completely opaque—and features a minimal brown head and minimal lacing.
The flavor follows the nose on this one: dark chocolate, toffee, brown sugar oatmeal, raisin, molasses, and loads and loads and loads of roasted barley and malts and it bombards the palate with a thick, “chewy,” velvety mouthfeel.
This beer is a bit of a departure from other Russian Imperial Stouts that I’ve had, though, in that the heavy chocolate flavors I typically associate with RIS’s take a back seat for more of the caramel and brown sugars.
Full body; chewy mouthfeel; lingering finish.
The Comon Yaj Noptic Cooperative was founded in May 1995 by a group of small coffee producers in Chiapas, Mexico. Today, the organization is made up of 162 small growers, cultivating a total of almost 450 hectares of organic coffee spread throughout several Chiapas communities.
The organization provides many services to its members including production enhancement workshops and technical assistance programs that allow producers to develop the skills needed to compete in today’s coffee market.
Comon Yaj Noptic members are very engaged in conservations on the protection of their natural ecosystems and avoid the misuse of agrochemicals, take preventative measures against soil erosion, and implement sustainable management programs, especially those relating to water and energy. In addition the these environmental measures, they re-invest a portion of their profits into farmer & community healthcare and farming insurance.
region: Chiapas, Mexico
farm: Finca Santa Martha
association: Comon Yaj Noptic Cooperative
elevation: 1700 meters above sea level
cultivar: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra
process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma of the Mexico Comon Yaj Noptic is delightfully sweet and fragrant; even a bit spicy. Dark chocolate, white grape, citrus, a touch of cinnamon.
Taking my first few sips of the cup immediately post-brew, the flavor follows the nose: a medium-bodied coffee with a creamy mouthfeel flows over the tongue, carrying flavors of dark chocolate cocoa powder, toffee, and cinnamon spiciness. There’s also some fruit flavors in the front of the cup: raisin, blackberry, strawberry, and silky red delicious apple.
As the cup cools off, the coffee becomes a much more complex and dynamic. The dark chocolate backs off, as does the toffee, and they are replaced by salted caramel; it also becomes much livelier and effervescent with sparkling lemon zest, cantaloupe, and green grape acidity.
medium body; creamy mouthfeel; grape acidity; clean finish
Since Spiteful Brewing already makes two other versions of the GFY Stout, they had a solid foundation to build on. As highlighted above, they use a lot of roasted barley in GFY, which lends itself to a coffee presence on its own, so they knew they could highlight that flavor profile and make it even more coffee-forward with the right coffee. That right coffee came along in the form of Gaslight’s Mexico Comon Yaj Noptic
“We had an idea of what we wanted out of the coffee, but Tristan and Miro [of Gaslight] honed in the desired flavor profile of the finished beer,” explains Calvin Frederickson, co-founder of Spiteful. “After tasting the base beer—GFY Stout—alongside a couple of coffees, the Gaslight and Spiteful crews reached a consensus…the Mexico Comon Yaj Noptic Collective was the winner.”
Gaslight then roasted and ground around 25 pounds of the coffee for Spiteful to cold-brew and blend with the conditioning beer.
“We cold brew the coffee in order to keep the bitterness in check,” Spiteful’s other co-founder, Jason Klein, explains. “GFY Stout…already has the bitterness level…in balance and we didn’t want to upset that.” They then added the coffee after the primary fermentation was complete; this allows the beer to progress as it normally would, so when the time came to blend the beer and the coffee together, they already knew exactly what they were working with.
“By brewing each part independently, and then joining them together to condition, we get a synergistic result that ends up with the flavors we are looking for,” says Klein.
style: Imperial Coffee Stout
ingredients: Coffee, Maris Otter English malt, chocolate malt, roasted barley, wheat, oat, cascade hops
The aroma of the GFY Coffee Stout, again, booms with heavy chocolate malt; but, differently than the Imperial Stout, the roasted barley takes a backseat for fruit scents, peanut butter, and coffee. Visually, the beer is a deep, dark black with a minimal tan head.
What I’m struck by, taking my first few sips from the snifter, is how different the texture of this beer is compared to its sans-coffee predecessor. It’s a medium-bodied beer, to be sure, and much lighter—maybe even a little too thin for the style; instead of a massively velvety mouthfeel, this one is more creamy. It also has a bit of carbonation, which caught me off guard.
This beer also features significantly less of the roasted barley and chewy malt flavors that were so prominent in the Imperial Stout. This one, instead, places its emphasis on milk chocolate, toffee, and dark fruit flavors: plum, apple, raisin.
Medium body; creamy mouthfeel, with some carbonation; lingering finish.
Before I share my final thoughts on the GFY Coffee Stout, I want to first thank a few people: Zak Rye at Gaslight—thanks for the coffee samples; Calvin and Jason at Spiteful—thanks for being so helpful and accommodating; Tommy and Jorge of the Few Brews Beer Club—thanks for having me on your podcast!
This deconstruction is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now, and I don’t think I could have picked a better coffee beer to do it with than this one. It was a fascinating exercise to taste the two components come together and diverge in the final product. My only complaint about the GFY Coffee Stout was its body and mouthfeel; it tasted great, I just wish it had more density and a lot less carbonation.
Still, though, it’s a beer I’d recommend to anybody. Hell, I’d recommend all three products to anybody.
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