Last week, the guys from Night Shift were in Cape May, helping us put the finishing touches on Brewberry, our collaboration Imperial stout with coffee and blueberries.
Coffee. And blueberries. In an Imperial stout. Yes, you read all of that correctly.
It’s unconventional. It’s different. It’s a little weird. But it totally works.
Coffee beans are like hops, in a way. At their most basic levels, hops taste and smell like hops and coffee beans taste and smell like coffee. However, as any beer connoisseur can tell you, the differences between hops are greater than their similarities. You get some fruity flavors from something like an Azacca or a Sultana, or some tropical or dank flavors from a Mosaic… or you might not. It’s a perception thing.
Coffee is much the same way. While they all have the pervading flavor of coffee, some may be flowery, or nutty, or smoky, or herby.
“African coffees tend to have very expressive personalities,” says Innovation Director Brian Hink, “with Ethiopian varietals oftentimes eliciting strong berry flavors, specifically blueberry undertones.”
However, if you raise your eyebrow at this one, we don’t blame you. We have a lot of faith in our folks here and the people up at Night Shift, but some of us were not without our doubts.
“How are these flavors going to play off of each other?” Lab Manager Lauren Appleman wondered. “I like coffee, but I don’t know a whole lot about it and had absolutely no idea that it could smell and taste just like a blueberry. But I was blown away when I tried the Night Shift coffee.”
And when the coffee is that good, the possibilities for the beer are wide open.
“We selected a lighter roast profile to keep the delicate flavors intact,” Brian says, “and with the base beer being a stout we knew enough roast would come through from the grain bill, so it still has a distinctive roastiness you’d expect from a coffee beer, but the berry notes from the coffee are still front and center.”
As this is an Imperial stout, our focus was on the malt bill, but there was a bit of a tightrope to be walked with this beer: too much of a malt character would overpower the blueberries or, with too thin a body, the acidity from the blueberries would be too prominent.
“It was fun to iterate through a couple of pilot batches,” Brian said, “figuring out the delicate balance of the fruit, the coffee, and the stout base.”
After discussions with Night Shift — and a few trials in Cape May — we decided on a malt bill of pilsner, Munich, oats, midnight wheat, and roasted barley: complex, but not overpoweringly complex.
“There’s a little malt complexity in there,” Brian says, “but the grain bill straddles the line between a porter and a stout.”
We approached the fruit in this beer a little differently, as well. With many fruit beers, we add the fruit after fermentation has been completed. However, with Brewberry — as with Apple Bomb — the blueberry was added before fermentation was complete.
“When dropping the yeast off the tank it had this crazy mauve color, which was kinda cool,” Lauren says.
As with many stouts, the hops take a back seat to the malt in Brewberry, but this single-hop bill was selected deliberately.
“Mosaic hops have a strong berry or blueberry thing going on with them,” Brian says, “so they were the obvious choice for the hops in this brew.”
At Cape May, we’re all really excited about this collaboration, having been admirers of Night Shift for a long time.
“We respect Night Shift and what they’re doing,” Ryan said. “Both breweries are relatively similar in terms of vintage and size, and, like us with Cape Beverage Distributing, they’ve opened their own wholesaler in Massachusetts. With all of our synergies, coming together to brew a great beer was a no-brainer.”
And Rob Burns, the co-founder of Night Shift, has been looking forward to this collaboration, as well.
“We’re inspired every day by new explorations of beer across the industry, so it’s exciting to collaborate with like-minded craft brewers who share the same passion and curiosity,” he said. “This collaboration with Cape May Brewing came together so seamlessly since we both develop beers that appeal to a varietal palate. Brewberry is an exploration of marrying different beverage categories, resulting in a strong coffee aroma with a subtle taste of coffee and the sweetness of blueberry.”
And, regardless of its unconventional recipe, the beer has turned out beautifully. Brewberry is an incredibly indulgent and decadent brew with a robust malt bill that accentuates the natural coffee flavors and a whirlpool charge of Mosaic hops that brings out the natural blueberry flavors present in the coffee. A generous helping of blueberry juice was added at the tail-end of fermentation to add a jammy, subtle tartness to the otherwise chocolatey and decadent brew.
“It’s weird!” Brian says. “In a good way, of course. When we conceptualized Brewberry, I knew we had an uphill battle designing this beer. There are a whole lot of flavors going on, some that can clash, so everything would have to be carefully balanced to not blow up in our faces on this one.”
Thankfully, nothing blew up. The beer came out really well.
“I’m really happy with how it came out!” Brian says. “I’ll definitely be enjoying a few of these out of my favorite tulip glass, ideally sitting by a fire on one of these weirdly warm ‘winter’ nights.”
Lauren’s enjoying it, too.
“This is a really complex beer,” she says. “It’s not too sweet and has a thinner mouthfeel than you might expect from a stout. The blueberry helped to drop the pH down, so there is a nice tartness to it upfront. When the tartness subsides, you get that roasted coffee flavor to come through.
“I really like this beer because it is so unexpected.”
Brewberry releases on Saturday from our Tasting Room and available throughout Massachusetts and New Jersey by Monday, February 3rd. And, if you stop by the Brewtique, for a limited time you’ll be able to grab a 12oz bag of the coffee we used, Night Shift Brewing Road Trip: Ethiopia from producer Tamiru Genale, for $15.
Don’t miss it!