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The Java Head’s Definitive Guide to Coffee Beer

Coffee meets beer in the ultimate marriage of breakfast beverage and party staple.


In today’s beer culture, it is no longer good enough to brew an excellent beer. To excite the palates of discerning craft beer drinkers, a brewery must add all manner of unique ingredients to their beers. This is especially true with stouts, of which one of the most popular styles is made with coffee. Coffee was first added to stouts to complement the roastiness of the malts, but it has now found its way into nearly every beer style including IPAs, kölsches, cream ales and most popularly, stouts and porters.

Coffee wasn’t always an accepted ingredient in beer. It’s generally agreed upon that New Glarus was the first to brew a commercial coffee beer in 1994. Two years later, the Wisconsin brewer’s coffee stout won silver at the B.T.I.– World Beer Championships. The beer became increasingly popular with New Glarus fans, but shortly after the award was given the ATF put a halt on coffee beer due to its caffeine content. New Glarus put its coffee stout on hold until quiet lobbying (likely from brands producing products like Four Loko or Jack and Coke in cans) successfully made it legal to sell coffee beer with proper labeling on the bottle.

While the beers on this list all have coffee in common, the amounts and techniques used to add it couldn’t be more different. Some brewers age the beer on roasted coffee beans; others add coffee into the boil or into the fermentation; some steep grounds, making a “cold toddy”; still others simply add cold-brew coffee to the finished beer. Each technique adds a different character and is best suited to a given style. Adding cold-brew coffee to a kölsch would overrun the light and subtle flavors of the beer, while infusing a kölsch with coffee imparts roasted notes without ruining the base style. Likewise, adding cold-brew coffee to a finished beer is much better suited to imperial stouts or dark beers that are already prone to a roasted characteristic.

Regardless of the technique or amount used, each of the following beers has a coffee bent that is sure to satisfy both the java head and the discerning craft beer aficionado.

Light Roast

Just enough coffee to let you know that it’s there.

Xocoveza, Stone Brewing


ABV: 8.1% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Escondido, California
Beer Advocate Rating: 96
Style: Milk Stout

Originally brewed as a part of Stone Brewing’s annual homebrew competition, Xocoveza tastes somewhat like a liquid Christmas cookie. It is brewed with a handful of spices and unique ingredients, including cocoa, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and, of course, coffee. The beer is sweet and sticky, and coats your palate with sweet spices.

Learn More: Here

AB:16, BrewDog


ABV: 10.6% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A
Style: Belgian Quadrupel

Though this beer received low rankings from our testers, it’s worth a try. It’s a truly unique beer from the masterminds at BrewDog and combines flavors and aromas of dark fruits paired with a hint of roasted coffee to balance it out. Some tasters even described AB:16 as having very savory characteristics.

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Laimas Coffee Kölsch, Fate Brewing


ABV: 5% | IBU: 20 | Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A
Style: Kölsch

Another unique beer on our list, Fate Brewing‘s new Laimas Coffee Kölsch plays with your perceptions. It has the drinkability of a lager, with the body of an ale and the roast of a blonde coffee. Fate uses Ozo coffee, a Boulder coffee roaster — specifically, their single-origin Ethiopian cold press coffee — for a unique roasted character that doesn’t overwhelm the kölsch aspect of the beer.

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C.R.E.A.M., Sixpoint Brewery


ABV: 7.2% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Brooklyn, New York
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A
Style: Cream Ale

C.R.E.A.M. is the latest genre-bending beer to come out of the mad science lab at Sixpoint. Inspired by the famous Wu-Tang lyrics, C.R.E.A.M. is brewed with a blend of pilsner, two-row and crystal malts. The resulting beer is blended with cold-brewed coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. C.R.E.A.M. drinks light with just enough roast to let you know that the coffee is there. The pilsner malt comes through strong and makes the beer very drinkable.

Learn More: Here

Moirai Coffee IPA, Fate Brewing


ABV: 7% | IBU: 60 | Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A
Style: India Pale Ale

Fate Brewing certainly loves their Ozo coffee. This is the second beer of theirs to make this list, and for good reason. Their innovative take on the IPA stands out from a sea of mediocre IPAs. The roasted coffee notes play off of the hoppy bitterness well and make for a very unique blend. Just as in their coffee kölsch, the roasted coffee doesn’t overwhelm the beer in color or flavor. One taster noted that the taste starts as an IPA, but then gently fades to coffee and cream.

Learn More: Here

Medium Roast

Bitterness and roast dance across the palate.

Hotbox, Oskar Blues


ABV: 6.5% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Longmont, Colorado
Beer Advocate Rating: 88
Style: Porter

It isn’t too often that Oskar Blues cans a new creation — most of their one-offs are reserved for their brewery taproom, called the Tasty Weasel — but those rare occasions are a treat. The new Hotbox Coffee Porter pairs a velvety smooth mouthfeel with a bitter bite from OB’s in-house coffee label, Hotbox Coffee Roasters. The beer is highly drinkable and because it comes in a can, you can take it just about anywhere.

Learn More: Here

Graveyard Shift Coffee Pale Ale, Arcade Brewery


ABV: 7% | IBU: 28 | Brewery Location: Chicago, Illinois
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A
Style: American Pale Ale

When we first poured this beer, we thought for sure that it would get classified under the light roast category. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Following a similar vein to the Moirai IPA, Arcade Brewery’s Graveyard Shift Pale Ale combines bright hoppy flavors with dark roasted coffee notes. It’s something of a sleeper on this list — because it’s still relatively unknown in the beer community — but many of our tasters thoroughly enjoyed it and found it very drinkable.

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Regular Coffee, Carton Brewing


ABV: 12% | IBU: 26 | Brewery Location: Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
Beer Advocate Rating: 89
Style: Imperial Cream Ale

In New Jersey, if you order a “regular coffee” at any self-respecting deli, you get a black coffee with milk and two sugars. Inspired by this odd “Jerseyism,” Carton Brewing set out to craft a beer that echoed those flavors. Regular Coffee pours a light, straw-and-hay-like color, but it drinks anything but light. Roasted coffee notes play off of the thick and mildly cloying sweetness and mouthfeel. This beer sees very little distribution, but if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some, be sure to share among friends.

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Coffee Bender, Surly Brewing


ABV: 5.1% | IBU: 45 | Brewery Location: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Beer Advocate Rating: 92
Style: American Brown Ale

We’re big fans of Surly. Between their aptly named Darkness and their series of hoppy beers like Abrasive, Bitter Brewer and Furious, they make a fantastic selection of ales — and Coffee Bender is no different. To brew the beer, Surly takes their Bender American brown ale and steeps it in coarsely ground coffee beans from the Vinca Vista Hermosa plantation in Guatemala. The result is a smooth and balanced coffee beer that is sure to please beer drinkers and coffee aficionados alike.

Learn More: Here

Yodo con Leche, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria


ABV: 8.5% | IBU: 38 | Brewery Location: Bedford Park, Illinois
Beer Advocate Rating: 87
Style: American Porter

Yodo Con Leche is a collaboration beer between 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Gaslight Coffee Roasters and Good Beer Hunting. Yodo ended up being quite the sleeper on this list, scoring better than hyped-up favorites like Terrapin’s Wake ‘n Bake, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout and Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea. It is a smooth-drinking, creamy and semi-sweet porter that is well balanced and looks great in the glass. Tasters picked up a distinct smokey characteristic, and one taster noted: “Classic coffee stout. Hits all marks.”

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Victory at Sea, Ballast Point Brewing


ABV: 10% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: San Diego, California
Beer Advocate Rating: 96
Style: Imperial Porter

Highly accessible and highly regarded, Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea makes coffee a dominant flavor, but not at the cost of the traditional characteristics of a porter. Ballast Point uses San Diego Caffe Calabria coffee beans and adds vanilla to round out the flavor. Ballast Point recommends pairing this beer with a pulled pork sandwich, but given the coffee buzz accompanying it, we don’t see why you couldn’t have it with your morning cereal.

Learn More: Here

Dark Roast

Deep, strong coffee flavors highlighted by bitterness and roast.

Wake ‘n Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, Terrapin Beer Co.


ABV: 9.4% | IBU: 52 | Brewery Location: Athens, Georgia
Beer Advocate Rating: 95
Style: Imperial Stout

Terrapin is a brewery that largely flies under the radar, except when it comes to Wake ‘n Bake. Though they had to change the name of the beer (the label now says “W-n-B Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout”), the recipe has stayed constantly delicious since its inception. W-n-B was a favorite on this list, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel, dark roasty coffee notes and a bitter dark chocolate sweetness. Although the coffee will fade over time, this beer also ages extremely well.

Learn More: Here

Péché Mortel, Dieu du Ciel


ABV: 9.5% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Montreal, Quebec
Beer Advocate Rating: 97
Style: American Imperial Stout

Brewed at the small brewpub Dieu du Ciel in Montreal, Quebec by a brewer with no formal training, Péché Mortel is a surefire inclusion on any respectable list of coffee beers. The name translates to “mortal sin” from French, suggesting its dark and sinister characteristics. Dark, bitter and roasted aromas waft up from the glass after a vigorous pour. This beer is roughly the opposite of Stone’s Xocoveza. There is no sweetness here — the bitter coffee plays the lead and is unrelenting.

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Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, Goose Island Brewing Company


ABV: 12.4% | IBU: 60 | Brewery Location: Chicago, Illinois
Beer Advocate Rating: 100
Style: Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

Though Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout was a giant on this list and was assumed to be a favorite, it was not our highest-scoring beer. It’s still an excellent beer. Each year Goose Island uses a different coffee variety from Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters. This year, they used a Nicaraguan variety called Los Delirios. The coffee is blended into the finished beer, making it the dominant flavor and playing well off of the bourbon smokiness and typical Bourbon County sweetness.

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Bomb!, Prairie Artisan Ales


ABV: 13% | IBU: 65 | Brewery Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Beer Advocate Rating: 99
Style: American Imperial Stout

The hands-down favorite from our tasting. This beer had everything we were looking for in a coffee beer, incorporating the coffee seamlessly into the beer without overwhelming it. The chillies were very subtle and added just a hint of warming spice. The chocolate and vanilla play nicely as well, and the mouthfeel has a milky, smoothie-like effect. If you like coffee, and you like great beer, seek this one out.

Learn More: Here

Breakfast Stout, Founders Brewing


ABV: 8.3% | IBU: 60 | Brewery Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Beer Advocate Rating: 99
Style: American Imperial Stout

Founders’ Breakfast Stout is the most accessible and most consistent coffee beer on this list. If you are in Founders’ distribution footprint, which encompasses almost every state east of Nebraska, chances are you can pick up a four-pack of FBS. Founders uses flaked oats to give the Breakfast Stout a creamy, rich mouthfeel and two types of coffee give it a dark, roasty character. Flavors of coffee, chocolate, caramel and vanilla are all present and almost all of our tasters found this beer to be very drinkable.

Learn More: Here

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Mikkeller ApS


ABV: 12.9% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Grimstad, Norway
Beer Advocate Rating: 96
Style: Imperial Oatmeal Stout

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel is, without a doubt, one of the most unique beers on this list. At first glance it would seem like your typical imperial coffee stout, but the story behind the coffee is as unique as it gets. In some Vietnamese coffee plantations, they have problems with weasels. These weasels come through and eat coffee beans off of the plants. The coffee then works its way — as whole beans — through the weasels system where it is digested and then expelled. Vietnamese farmers then come and collect the digested beans, clean them, add chicken fat and then roast them. The resulting bean has almost no bitterness with all of the coffee flavors and aroma that you could hope for. Mikkeller uses these beans, which he claims are one of the most expensive coffees in the world, in Beer Geek Brunch Weasel.

Learn More: Here

Sunday Morning Stout, Weyerbacher Brewing Co.


ABV: 11.3% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Easton, Pennsylvania
Beer Advocate Rating: 95
Style: Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

A personal favorite on this list, Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout is a beer that (much to my enjoyment) flies well under the radar. SMS tastes very similar to Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout, but it’s much easier to find — in the NYC area at least — and comes in at a fraction of the cost. Bourbon is strong in the taste and can be felt at the back of your throat. The coffee complements the vanilla from the oak barrel and makes for a well-rounded brew.

Learn More: Here

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