Portland is known for coffee and beer. But not coffee beer.
Despite having the nation’s best crop of small-batch coffee roasters and making some of the nation’s best suds, few Portland breweries put the two together. Sure, there are occasionally interesting offerings—Laurelwood made a limited release called Cascara Obscura out of the cherry fruit that houses coffee beans—but the only coffee beer consistently made in the city is Hopworks’ Survival 7-Grain Stout, brewed with cold-pressed Stumptown beans.
At this point, Voodoo and Rogue have teamed up to release two doughnut-flavored beers—the new chocolate, peanut butter and banana version falls somewhere between a black banana peel that’s been aging in your glove box and a banana pancake that’s been vomited—which is twice as many coffee beers as Portland makes.
So what’s the best coffee beer on local shelves? Four WW tasters—Martin Cizmar, Rebecca Jacobson, Brian Yaeger and Luis Till—graded everything available in a blind taste-off.
Alesmith Speedway Stout
The San Diego brewery’s much-hyped imperial coffee stout more than held up to scrutiny. Its barrel-aged cousin was once named the best beer in the world by ratebeer.com. The regular version is coal black with a strong anise flavor and deep caramel head. Dripping with fudge and coffee, it’s as rich and strong as a digestif.
Tasters said: “Decadent! The perfect marriage of coffee and stout” and “A boozy buffet in your mouth.”
Fire Mountain Steam Fired Stout
Fire Mountain’s Steam Fired Stout is not actually a coffee beer—there are no beans in this brew—but we couldn’t tell that in a blind taste-off. The mocha and cream in this lighter-bodied and bubbly stout from Carlton really impressed us.
Tasters said: “Exactly what a coffee stout should be” and “Just enough cream without being indulgent.”
Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout
Possibly the best-loved Oregon coffee beer locally, Eugene’s Oakshire makes a smooth and silky stout that was the most drinkable bottle in the lot.
Tasters said: “Big roast, nice and black like I like my coffee” and “I finished that huge glass you gave me?”
Southern Tier Jah-Va Imperial Coffee Stout
Sweet, light, but full-flavored, New York’s Southern Tier makes a fine, if a little acidic, stout.
Tasters said: “Full-bodied but not heavy, like drinking a really fit lover” and “Molasses—yum?”
Middle of the Pack:
Full Sail LTD 06 Lager
“There’s no coffee or chocolate in this beer, but your mouth will insist otherwise,” the bottle claims. We wouldn’t necessarily insist, but we might suppose.
Tasters said: “Off notes permeate” and “Light body, but pretty uninteresting.”
Elysian Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout
We didn’t find any of the creaminess we’d expect from this milk stout of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company, but we did begin to relive memories of roadside diner coffee.
Tasters said: “Like the coffee that’s been sitting in the pot all day” and “Mmm, Bosco and instant coffee.”
Hub Survival 7-Grain Stout
Like we said, given the great coffee and beer in this town, it’s a shame no one has put it together in a really extraordinary way on a regular basis. In a blind taste-off, one of our favorite Hopworks beers didn’t stack up against the others.
Tasters said: “Musty, weird, punchy.... Uncle Larry, is that you?” and “Nice and light, but smells.”
Bottom of the Pot:
Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout
We’re still looking for the cappuccino among the Starbucks bitterness. We expected better from this Northern California brewery.
Tasters said: “Is bitterer a word?” and “Coffee + ammonia = nope.”
Rogue Mocha Porter
Most of this very stale beer from the Newport brewery ended up in the dump glass. Oh well, at least Rogue has the doughnut-beer market cornered.
Tasters said: “Maybe if I wanted a very mild coffee flavor on a 100-degree day” and “Thin like an anorexic supermodel: all fizz.”