In answering the question of what to pair with coffee at the dining table, dessert readily springs to mind; there are any number of sweet treats that can be enjoyed with good coffee.
As for drinks, the matching of coffee and port is a classic way to end a meal, as is coffee and a fine liqueur.
While these are all great matches, the gourmet’s ongoing search for new taste partners is turning up some surprises. Discerning diners are discovering that beer can be the perfect accompaniment with coffee, and it can sit just as nicely with a dessert.
For Australians, who equate ‘beer’ with the pale amber fluid that comes in a can labelled Tooheys, VB or XXXX, the suggestion that beer and coffee could be drunk together might bring on scornful looks.
But just as the majority of Australians once thought good coffee came in a jar, they are now discovering that there is a world of beer out there, and it is a world worth discovering.
To get your head around the notion of beer and coffee, you must first adjust your understanding of what beer is.
The mass-marketed commercial lagers known to most Australian drinkers are beers with the flavour turned down low. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. These are beers that are designed to be drunk after mowing the lawn, or downed one after another at the footie when you don’t want to be distracted by flavour. They aren’t designed to compliment tiramisu or go with a macchiato.
For this job you need a beer that might be “rich tasting with a velvet smoothness on the palate, a burnt currant fruitiness, followed by a warming embrace of alcohol”, or even one that is “a full-bodied and irresistible bittersweet flavour with a rich chocolate aroma”.
And for a beer like that you need to go somewhere like Sydney’s Redoak Boutique Beer Café, a restaurant that is matching coffee with beer and finding it is a perfect match.
It must be said that Redoak Boutique Beer Café is a brewery, so they match everything to beer – but by brewing more than 40 different beers in a wide variety of styles, they can successfully match them with a lot of things.
For Dave Hollyoak, Redoak’s head brewer and co-director, the restaurant’s ability to find a beer to match their menu–including coffee–is a source of pride and the key to doing so is understanding which tastes compliment each other and which contrast.
“I think matching beer to desert is one of our specialties,” Dave said.
“If you are having something sweet for dessert you want something to contrast with that and so you go with something quite dry to cleanse the palate.
Dave says this is where coffee goes well with sweet desserts, because it’s a classic bitter/sweet combination. He says that in matching beers to coffee you are after the same combination.
“This is where beer can work with dessert, because beer can have bitterness and nice strong coffee flavours that really contrast with that sweetness.”
“On the other hand, when you match beer to coffee, coffee already has the bitter component so you want to go with something sweet.
“For that we match something like our Special Strong Ale, the Wee Heavy Ale, the Bock or the Baltic Porter. They all have quite a bit of residual sweetness coming from the malt and that would provide the sweet component that would contrast with coffee’s bitterness,” Dave said.
It is here that non-beer drinkers may need a quick tutorial. Beer is the result of a judicious mixing of water, malt, hops and yeast. The flavours that can result in the mixing are many.
The malted barley and wheat provide the sugars for the fermentation and the sweetness, if that is what the brewer is after, to the beer. Malt can undergo a variety of kilning processes that can vastly affect the colour and flavour of the resulting beer. It can give it a taste profile ranging from banana and cloves to apricot and passionfruit through to liquorice and chocolate. These are found in beers where the flavour isn’t turned down, of course.
The perfect time for drinking different styles of beer varies too. Just as you wouldn’t knock off a glass of port with a salad, you wouldn’t drink a Scotch ale watching the footy; but you would drink it with a coffee. Redoak’s Wee Heavy Ale is just such a beer.
This brew is a prime example of Dave’s passion for making beer. He uses a peat-smoked malt, specially imported from McCallums Distillery in Scotland, giving the Wee Heavy a smokiness reminiscent of a fine whiskey. With an alcohol content of 8 per cent, it is a rich and malty sweet ale that pairs beautifully with coffee to celebrate the end of a meal.
So well does coffee go with his beers that Dave enlisted the help of Redoak’s coffee suppliers to develop a special blend to accompany his Special Reserve, Grand Champion at the 2006 Australian International Beer Awards.
Redoak source their coffee from Sydney coffee house La Casa del Caffe. La Casa’s General Manager Louise Kennedy says that apart from enjoying a beer at the café on occasion, she has enjoyed working with Redoak on their coffee needs.
“Beer and coffee are a great combination, depending on how each is made they can both be bitter or sweet, which go very well together,” Louise said.
Dave’s Special Reserve was aged over two years, including 12 months in oak, a fact that gives further insight into the versatility of beer.
Louise said that La Casa provided a variety of coffee blends designed to provide Redoak with a range of flavours to help him get the beer right.
“Obviously different coffee blends will give you different things. Robusta will give you more body and crema, while arabica tends to be milder, so we helped him out with a few flavour ideas.”
Dave Hollyoak’s beer and coffee matches
Short black matched to Redoak Belgian Chocolate Stout
The Belgian Chocolate Stout is a unique specialty beer that sees Redoak’s rich, smooth oatmeal stout infused with the finest Belgian chocolate, giving a full-bodied and irresistible bittersweet flavour with a rich chocolate aroma.
The short black masks the coffee roasted flavours of the Chocolate Stout, but at the same time highlight the rich Belgian chocolate flavour and slight sweetness in the beer, which in turn highlights the bitterness of the coffee.
Black mocha matched to Wee Heavy Ale
In this case the black mocha consisted of a double short black with a layer of hot chocolate over it.
In tasting the Wee Heavy first you taste the peatiness nicely balanced to the beer’s high alcohol. When tasted with the coffee, impression of the Wee heavy changes, giving it a liqueur flavour, emphasising the sweet malt. In turn the beer emphasised the chocolate flavour of the black mocha. A great match!