I'll be the first to admit it: I'm a coffee fiend. Fortunately, the only beverage that I love as much as beer is also socially acceptable to drink any time of day (though, admittedly, I’m still lobbying hard for the breakfast beer). Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of indulging in some of the best local brews and coffee in towns around the nation and beyond, and have come to the conclusion that the two beverages are actually a match made in heaven.
Coffee beers (that is, beers brewed with real coffee) have a richness and depth that lingers long after sipping; the nuanced malt and coffee flavors complement one another while taking turns shining on their own. Meanwhile, food and beer pairings are being more widely recognized as a means of highlighting flavors, with desserts, in particular, owning a special place in the spotlight.
And so, in the spirit of honoring both forms of matchmaking at once, I've rounded up some of my favorite coffee beers from around the country and paired them with a few decadent, local coffee desserts. The result, you’ll find, is a delicious means of obtaining a caffeine fix, sugar rush, and alcohol buzz in one fabulous tasting.
Stone Brewing Co. “Xocoveza Mocha Stout” + ‘Lette “Colombian Coffee Macarons”
Hailing from San Diego, Stone Brewing Company's Xocoveza is a stout version of Mexican hot chocolate with a little kick. Coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and pasilla peppers find their way into this sweet and spiced brew that is jammed with flavor, while still a smooth sipper.
The classic French dessert from ‘Lette is a perfect companion for this beer, with strong Colombian coffee notes that enhance the flavors of the stout. The pastry is held together by a luscious chocolate ganache that reins in the heat from the peppers. Despite the lighter-than-air texture of the macarons, they hold their own in the flavor department with the balance they bring to the pairing.
Founders Brewing “Kentucky Breakfast Stout” + Zingerman’s “Sour Cream Coffeecake”
Everyone’s favorite breakfast stout -- packed with heaps of coffee and chocolate flavor -- is beautifully rounded out when it spends a whole year cave-aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Unlike some barrel-aged imperial stouts out there, Founders KBS highlights the smooth vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes of the bourbon, with a subtle oakiness that complements the flavors instead of overwhelming them.
The complex symphony of flavors reaches insane heights when you take a bite of Zingerman’s famous Sour Cream Coffeecake. The sour cream and butter lay down some seriously smooth base flavors, which the toasted walnuts and cinnamon dance atop magnificently. The depth of flavor and smooth richness from this pair make it easy to forget KBS is swinging with 11.8% ABV, which is one heck of a breakfast eye-opener.
This peppy seasonal release from Founders is a phenomenal imperial brown ale with (as one might guess) mountains of Sumatran coffee beans that impart spectacular flavor and aroma. The medium body and creamy texture has a balanced chocolate backbone that plays well with the cinnamon spice from the cake. German and Perle hops wrap things up with a clean finish that kept me nibbling and sipping again and again.
Clown Shoes “The Barista Breakfast Brown Ale” + L.A. Burdick “Coffee Marzipan”
Clown Shoes may be a pretty silly name for a brewery, but it pumps out some very serious brews. The brand has more sensational hop-packed IPAs and boldly adventurous stouts than most breweries have entire beer lineups, and none tread lightly on flavor. Their attention to the often-overlooked brown ale gets the same treatment, with a healthy dose of cold brewed espresso to perk up the taste buds, and flaked oatmeal to deliver a silky smooth mouthfeel.
The chocolate-covered coffee marzipan from Boston’s L.A. Burdick chocolatier is a perfect compadre to The Barista, with a super sweet richness and almond nuttiness that blends with the nuanced flavors of the brown ale. The coffee and chocolate notes float on top of the milk sugars for a tantalizing treat that is sure to satiate even the neediest sweet tooth.
Great Divide Brewing “Espresso Oak Aged Yeti” + Werther’s Original “Coffee Caramels”
From the Mile High City comes a monster of a beer in Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Espresso Oak Aged Yeti. Its head is a deep, chocolatey, dark brown that looks like a fresh-pulled shot of espresso, with an aroma to match. The aggressive dark chocolate and espresso bitterness rides atop a wave of charred oak flavors with a sticky backbone that lingers around pleasantly.
A concoction as mammoth as the Yeti plays incredibly well with the smooth, caramel coffee flavors of the Werther’s for a sultry collaboration. This combination is a perfect example of opposites attracting, as the simple coffee caramels lay down some steady backup guitar for the complex Yeti to be the rock star of the show and shred some palate. Best of all, one hard candy lasts a while, so you can keep savoring the epic flavor melodies of the duet without filling up too much.
Epic Brewing “Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout” + Fairytale Brownies “Espresso Nib”
“Big” and “bad” are spot on descriptors of this chewy imperial stout from Epic Brewing. Dosed with cacao nibs and dark roasted coffee that changes with every season’s release, this bold brew leads with richness, while the whiskey and barrel char deliver a warming bitterness that bring up the rear.
An incredible depth of flavor like the Baptist pairs incredibly well with a moist, fudgy Espresso Nib brownie from Fairytale Brownies in Phoenix. The masterful bakery from Utah’s neighbor to the south cranks out some seriously delectable treats, and your basic glass of milk is no match for these magical squares. When enjoyed together, Epic’s Big Bad Baptist swirls around the dark chocolate and hearty espresso flavors of the brownie, then take the lead to finish strong with a lingering warmth that cleanses the palate and will have you fiending for another bite until both are gone.