Austin’s Independence Brewing Company released a new seasonal ale that capitalizes on a coffee craze: nitro coffee. That’s a brew charged with nitrogen, to preserve the coffee’s freshness and yield a rich, creamy head. This blonde ale has a smooth coffee flavor that fans of nitro cold-brew coffee will especially appreciate.
The beer is different from most coffee-flavored ales. Although coffee porters and stouts show dark-roasted coffee flavors, they rely heavily on malts for their richer, bolder profile. As a blonde ale, Up and Down: Brazil is lighter on the palate. The coffee flavor is fresh, light and pure. There’s just a hint of malty-grain sweetness and a faint caramel note backing the smooth, nitro coffee profile. With tiny nitrogen bubbles, the texture is smooth.
“Working with coffee in beer is risky,” says head brewer Brannon Radicke. “If not properly handled, it can quickly degrade to a stale kind of vegetal flavor … By using a light blonde ale as a neutral base, there’s no way to hide off flavors. We decided that the only way we were going to do this beer was if we could nitrogenate the beer instead of carbonating with CO2. In our experience nitro produces a more shelf-stable product. There’s a reason why most of the canned coffees you see on the shelf are nitro.”
The 5.6% ABV ale is packaged using the same technology used for nitro cold-brew coffee: A plastic “widget” at the bottom of the can stores tiny nitrogen bubbles that are oxygen-activated, meaning they release when the can is opened. But there’s a trick to getting that foamy head on the beer: You must pour the beer vertically (holding the can up-side down over the glass), not at an angle. A pint glass is ideal for serving.
To make the beer, the Austin brewery collaborated with Little City Coffee Roasters, an Austin roastery known for roasting small batches of fair-trade coffee beans sourced from small lots throughout the world. Representatives from the brewery and roastery traveled throughout Brazil to find the ideal coffee beans. They settled on a Yellow Bourbon bean from a grower whose micro lot won a Cup of Excellence Award in 2018. The brewery hopes to feature beans from other growing regions in the world for future releases of this ale. Up and Down: Brazil does contain caffeine, about one-third the amount of a standard cup of coffee.
Independence Brewing Company is pushing the envelope with a holiday ale, too: The “Hop Brownie Ale,” called End Credits, is sold at Alamo Drafthouse theaters through Dec. 31. Up and Down: Brazil will be more widely available all winter long. It’s sold in 6-packs of 12-ounce cans for about $8.99 at Central Market and Whole Foods Market now, and will be in many more stores by January.
Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.