Coffee is sneaking into lighter Charlotte beers, not just stouts and porters

Before opening Wooden Robot Brewery in Charlotte last year, Dan Wade brewed at Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, Fla. And when he wasn’t brewing beer, he was pursuing another hobby by brewing coffee.

It didn’t take long for those two interests to intersect in a pilot batch. Adding coffee to beer is nothing new, but it is usually a porter or stout that gets the jolt of java. Wade had other plans.

“I thought it would be natural to use a blonde roast coffee in a blonde beer,” said Wade. “It really lets those brighter coffee notes shine through. The idea came to me because I was really starting to learn more about coffee and was reading about how different roasts affect the coffee.”

[Related: Wooden Robot wants to bring ‘something different’ to the Charlotte beer scene.]

At Wooden Robot’s grand opening, the brewery tapped Good Morning Vietnam. The beer, the best-selling offering in the taproom, is light in color but gives off the unmistakable aroma of coffee, thanks to beans from Charlotte roaster Enderly Coffee Co.

The fermented beer actually recirculates over the beans for about five hours, which Wade said provides a better extraction of flavor than if it were just steeping. There’s a sweetness from fresh-roasted Madagascar vanilla beans, too.

Triple C Brewing’s Scott Kimball is no stranger to brewing with coffee, having used beans from Magnolia Coffee Co. to great effect in both the brewery’s Up All Night Breakfast Porter and The Dude Imbibes, a rum barrel-aged imperial milk stout. But last year, he too wondered how coffee might come across in a lighter style.

Fortunately the brewery has one of those on at all times in its Golden Boy blonde ale, which served as the base for a coffee-infused pilot batch that Kimball first brewed last spring. He has done several small batches since, and the beer always goes quickly in the taproom.

Now, the brewery is preparing to can the beer – called Golden Girl – later this summer. For this one, Triple C Brewing is using the Guji blend from Summit Coffee in Davidson. The beer also contains tart cherries, which Kimball said pair well with the fruit-forward notes of the coffee.

[Related: Meet Triple C head brewer Scott Kimball.]

Just as Kimball is no stranger to working with coffee, Summit is no stranger to working with beer: Beer is served at the coffee shop, which has also hosted beer dinners.

Stouts and brown ales, of course, are more what you would expect of a coffee beer. They employ darker malts, which often mimic the roasty, toasty flavors of coffee anyway. If you think about it in terms of contrasting or complementary flavors, these fall firmly in the latter camp.

However, lighter beers like Good Morning Vietnam and Golden Girl (or Sixpoint Brewery’s C.R.E.A.M. or Ballast Point Brewing’s Calm Before The Storm, etc.) work so well because the base style politely steps out of the way to let the coffee take center stage. And all this is to say nothing of coffee IPAs, a rising substyle of beers that I never thought would work but quite often do.

Should you prefer the more traditional, darker coffee beers, you have plenty of options there as well. Free Range Brewing’s Bob’s Pure Intentions is a brown ale brewed with coffee from – you guessed it – Pure Intentions in Charlotte.

NoDa Brewing just released Premium Roast Coffee Stout, brewed with their own blend from Parliament Coffee Roasters. Lenny Boy Brewing has its Ground Up Coffee Stout, and they also recently released a barrel-aged stout called Breakfast in Heaven.

And bean has met beer in two recent offerings at Heist Brewery: Mowning Mon, a brown ale with toasted coconut and coffee; and French Toasted Joe, an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee, maple and cinnamon.

Photo: Rob McCaskill/Wooden Robot Brewery