Herb & Spice Beer High ABV Recipe

Irregular coffee.

A while back I listened to an episode (#89) of the Brulosophy podcast in which Marshall and Phil talk quite a bit about Carton Brewing Company‘s legendary beer Regular Coffee. It’s described as an imperial coffee cream ale, slyly replicating the classic New Jersey-ism of “regular coffee.” That is, drip coffee with milk and two sugars, usually served alongside a pork roll breakfast sandwich.

Now, I’ve never been to Carton Brewing. I’ve never had Regular Coffee. Heck, I’ve never even had a “regular coffee” in Jersey, though I’ve spent a lot of time visiting family there. (I have, however, had a pork roll sandwich, and those things are amazing.) Anyway, it sounded delicious, and I knew I had to try brewing something like it.

I went back and forth quite a bit on the recipe design for this one.

  • First it was trying to decide just how “imperial” to make it; Carton’s is 12%, but I have enough big bruisers taking up keg space, so ultimately I decided to shoot a little lower.
  • Then it was whether or not to add lactose, to better match the “regular coffee” profile; I finally opted to leave it out, since lactose rarely comes across as milky to me and too often ends up seeming cloying.
  • Last was the flaked maize; most “traditional” cream ales have it, so it made sense to have it here, but I’d never used it before and I was hesitant to screw around with it in a beer this big. Eventually, I decided to keep it traditional and use a bit of corn.

What’s in it?

The Vitals

  • Method: BIAB, no sparge, squeezed like usual
  • Batch size: 3.5 gallons
  • Mash: 75 minutes @ 152F
  • Boil: 75 minutes
  • OG: 1.086
  • FG: 1.008
  • ABV: 10.2%
  • IBU: 26

The Grain

  • 7 lb. Pelton (Mecca Grade Estate Pilsner)
  • 1 lb. Flaked Maize
  • 1 lb. Table Sugar
  • 0.75 lb Opal 44 (Mecca Grade Estate Toffee Malt)

The Hops

  • 24g Willamette [5.4% AA] @ 75 minutes
  • 22g Hallertauer Mittelfrueh [3.6% AA] @ 5 minutes

The Rest

  • Water: 4.5 gallons Bend tap water + 1/2 tsp gypsum + 1/4 tab campden
  • Yeast: 1 packet US-05 rehydrated in wort
  • Extras: 30g whole bean + 15g corase grind coffee (El Salvador light roast from my pals at Atlas Coffee Club—they’re great, check ’em out!)

How’d it go?

The brew itself was easy peasy: Since I was adding table sugar, I dissolved it in some of the pre-heated water from the mash and then added it back at the start of the boil. I once again overshot both my pre-boil and OG numbers (by 6 points, this time), which means I really ought to adjust my efficiency upward a little.

This brew was my first time going back to a non-kveik yeast in a while, and I had kind of forgotten what a “normal” ferment is like. Trying to keep the beer at the right temp (high 60s) without a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber meant moving it in to the bathroom off the garage at night, and then back out to the garage during the day. I basically did it, though!

Fermentation took about a full week, which is typical in my experience with US-05, though I got more attenuation (90%!) than I really expected or wanted. Nevertheless, the sample I drew to confirm FG tasted really nice, and not too dry.

When it came time to add the coffee, I took the advice recently published by Scott Janish and decided to add both whole bean and coarse-grind coffee. I put the beans and grounds inside a weighted muslin sack and simply dropped them into primary. The results were interesting.

After about 12 hours, the coffee flavor and aroma were amazing: light, delicate, and fruity. Exactly what you’d expect from a properly done light roast. But that seemed like not enough time to extract their full potential, so I let it ride for another 12 hours. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. While the finished beer has a stronger coffee note than that 12-hour sample, it’s also more like diner coffee: deeper, darker, more roasty. More what you’d expect from grocery store coffee.

I can’t say for sure that the light, floral flavor and aroma I got after the first 12 hours would have stuck around—maybe it was all volatile compounds that would have off-gassed anyway—but I definitely want to try it again with a shorter coffee rest to see.

Anyway, I kegged it up after 24 hours on the coffee, burst-carbed to ~2.5 volumes, and let it condition for about a week before giving it a serious tasting.

How’s it taste?

To me, this beer doesn’t taste like a cream ale. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since it’s 10%-plus and has adjuncts. It’s more like an American strong ale, a “white stout,” or even a less hoppy triple IPA in terms of body and flavor. I dig it, but the “imperial cream ale” tag seems misleading.

Appearance: Pours a deep golden hue, almost verging on amber. Based on the grain bill you’d expect it to be pretty blonde, but the Opal 44 and coffee combined to darken it a little. The result is very pretty, I think. The head sticks around longer than I would have expected given the coffee oils. It’s fluffy and white while it lasts, eventually diminishing to a thin film. Beautiful lacing on the glass.

Aroma: Dark coffee, pennies, and a little malt sweetness on the nose. Despite the light roast, the coffee aroma is deep and roasty—almost like a cup that you abandon in the morning and don’t get around to finishing until the early afternoon, after it’s been left to sit and cool. Doesn’t sound appealing, I know, but I secretly enjoy it.

Taste: The initial taste is a little sharp. It’s not tart. It’s more an assertive but not overwhelming bitterness and acidity from the coffee/hop combo. As it sinks into your tongue, a brown sugar–type malt sweetness comes to the fore (along with a touch of vanilla) and lingers in a lightly syrupy way. The finish is reminiscent of an old ale or barleywine, albeit clearly hopped a lot lower than the latter.

Mouthfeel: Despite how low this finished, it has a nice body to it. Perhaps the coffee oils and alcohol level are boosting the viscosity a bit? Anyway, it hits the palate a bit like, say, Lagunitas Brown Shugga. Big, boozy, and full in the mouth. Carb is moderate, which also helps. It’s a sipper.

Would I brew it again?

I would. I think, however, I’d go all whole bean for the coffee addition. I’d also bump up the coffee quantity to get more coffee flavor in there. And I’d cut it to 12-18 hours for the coffee rest. I might consider adding a bit of lactose, as well, just to see if it gets me the “regular coffee” character this version was lacking.

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