Breakfast time can be loaded with tough decisions. Sweet or savory, healthy or hearty, pancakes or waffles, biscuits or toast. There are dozens of different ways to cook eggs. Coffee is a must, but there are mornings or afternoons when a little booze is what you need to get the day going right. Irish coffee is fine, but beer drinkers wanna catch a buzz too. The coffee stout has been a popular variety of American craft brew for some time, and no local brew company has it down like Black Mesa with their yearly release of a coffee stout.
Black Mesa has teamed up with Elemental Coffee for their third limited release, Los Naranjos. The stout is brewed with (and named for) a coffee bean grown in Huila, Colombia. A party was held back in September at Elemental where the 50+ guests were served three versions of their stout that was each brewed with a different variety of coffee bean. Naranjos was the winner, and after trying the finished product, it is easy to see why.
Pouring a black that is the color of cold-brew coffee, a thin, tan line of foam circles the edges of the glass, giving Los Naranjos the appearance of pure espresso. The subtle scent of orange peel escapes from the rim. On the first sip, it comes on with a rich creaminess balanced with citrus and chocolate notes and a slight prune-ish sweetness. Roasted malts and coffee round out the end with a mouthfeel that is surprisingly crisp and refreshing. Coffee stouts can tend to be very heavy when breweries try to weigh them down with loads of malt and hops. Los Naranjos is smooth and easily drinkable, like a fresh and wellmade toddy from your favorite coffee shop. Indeed, it almost leans more towards tasting like a coffee than a beer, and that is an impressive feat, especially for a beverage that weighs in at 8.0% ABV.
Black Mesa co-owner Brad Stumph has been working with Elemental for three years crafting these seasonal beverages. Their first collaboration was the Red Badger in 2013, and 2014 brought an Ethiopian Ardi stout. “We respect their ability as craftsmen,” said Brad. “We were fortunate that when we brought them our first test batches of Red Badger Stout, they were open to working with us. This project has produced beers that we are very proud of. We spend a considerable chunk of each year planning and brewing the test batches and production batch along with the pre-release and release parties.”
To produce the smooth flavor and appearance of Los Naranjos, Black Mesa puts the malts and coffee beans through a specific de-bittering process. “De-bittered malts are kilned to add color to the beer without intensifying flavor, especially the roasted or smoked flavors which are often associated with the darker malts,” Brad explained. “The beans are added to the fermenter whole and are allowed to soak. From the brewer's perspective, we are conditioning the beer on the coffee. From the barista's perspective, we are using the beer to cold-brew the coffee.”
The addition of coffee as an ingredient into these seasonal beers is the only instance of Black Mesa using adjuncts, which are ingredients outside of the primary ones typically used in brewing a certain style. “For the millennials that are growing up in this golden age of craft beer in America, we like to provide a modern reference point to some of the classic European styles,” said Brad. “The Reinheitsgebot—also known as the "German Beer Purity Law"—says that only water, barley, and hops can be used in making beer. This was written before yeast was identified as the fermenting agent. The briefest description of our philosophy is, ‘Reinheitsgebot + Coffee.’”
To enjoy a flavorful beer, it is best to have the proper glassware on hand. Many complex beers, especially coffee stouts, do well with a stemmed glass, such as a tulip, chalice, or snifter. The round shape helps funnel the fragrance to your nose, and the stem allows the drinker to better control the temperature by choosing to either palm the beverage to warm it, or hold it by the stem to keep it cooler. “Ideal temperatures for stouts range from 45°-55°, so I would encourage everyone to let this one sit for a few minutes after pouring,” Brad advises. “The stout will taste richer and the coffee more full-flavored.”
But what about the classic diner mug? After all, this is a coffee beer, and you’re going to want to enjoy this on a winter morning with a big stack of pancakes, or whichever of the multitudinous breakfast options you have decided on. There is no wrong way to drink beer, and if you want to pour it into your Garfield “Hating On Mondays!” mug, it’s okay.
Will Brad judge you if you drink Los Naranjos for breakfast? “Absolutely not! The mark of a good winter weekend at my house is a hearty breakfast while catching an English Premier League match”—(soccer for the uninitiated)—“and enjoying a good coffee stout. The six-hour time difference between here and London makes for a nice breakfast or brunch… and it's killer with chicken and waffles anytime.”