Though the pairing might seem unusual, the bitterness of coffee beans complements the deep roasted flavors of darker beers like stouts, porters and lagers in a unique palate-pleasing way.
Two local businesses — Palo Alto Brewing Company and Philz Coffee — recognized the complementary nature of these two drinks a few years ago. They teamed up to produce Cool Beanz, a porter brewed with Philz's "Philtered Soul" medium-dark roast coffee beans.
"I'm a fan of coffee beers in general," said Palo Alto Brewing owner Kasim Syed. "I like that style. But the majority of coffee beers in the market tend to be usually really strong, high alcohol, like imperial coffee stouts, imperial coffee porter.
"It makes it hard to drink a lot of them. So I wanted to do something that was a little more sessionable," he said, using the term that refers to how drinkable a beer is and is used to describe beers with lower alcohol content that can be consumed in greater quantities.
Cool Beanz has a low alcohol by volume (ABV) of 6 percent, compared to other coffee beers that hover around 9 to 10 percent. It's also caffeinated.
"For me, it's a perfect kind of camping beer," Syed said. "You wake up in the morning and you can just crack one of these. It's really smooth, easy to drink, light roast, mostly coming from the malts — a little maybe from the coffee itself because that one has a medium roast on it."
Syed, a Palo Alto native, approached Philz CEO Jacob Jaber in 2012 with the idea for a coffee-beer collaboration. Syed grew up very close to Philz's first Palo Alto location on Middlefield Road and Loma Verde Avenue.
After some discussion — and tastings, of course — they decided to brew with "Philtered Soul" for its hazelnut flavoring, Syed said.
The brewing process isn't any different when making a coffee beer, but the end product's flavor profile will vary depending on when the beans are added in, Syed explained.
"You can put the beer in the mash, which is the start of (the brewing process). You can put it in during the boil. What we do is we put it in during the secondary fermentation. It's kind of like cold-steeping it because we didn't want to get any of the bitterness out of the coffee that might come when it reacts with the hot water."
Though this makes for a "coffee-forward" beer, Syed said he is aiming for high "sessionability."
"If you're at the pub, you can have a couple pints and you don't have to worry about it. Whereas a lot of the other ones ... you enjoy that flavor but you can't have more than one."
This isn't just a company line. Take it from this reporter, someone who's almost completely averse to darker beers: Cool Beanz is truly smoother and easier to drink — without sacrificing any flavor — than most of its porter counterparts. The coffee flavor doesn't come on too strong either, but just enough to feel like the drink is giving a two-for-one kick.
Jaber — more of a beans than brews aficionado — admitted he's "not even a big fan of beer," but said he enjoys Cool Beanz.
"I'm no expert by any means, but you don't need to be an expert to know if something's good or not," he said.
Bottles of Cool Beanz are sold at Mollie Stones, Piazzas Fine Foods and Whole Foods in Palo Alto; Ava's Downtown Market & Deli and Jane's Beer Store in Mountain View and The Willows Market in Menlo Park, and it's on tap at the Rose & Crown in downtown Palo Alto.