When it comes to drinks which don’t contain alcohol, there is one that I am almost as obsessive over as booze – coffee. While I’m generally not a fan of coffee beers, there’s one that combines beer, coffee and whisky in a way that I can’t ignore: Magic Rock Common Grounds.
The standard way of making a craft coffee beer is now fairly set:
- be a craft brewer
- identify a craft coffee roaster
- obtain some beans
- stick them in your beer
- tell everyone about your incredible craft collaboration.
The level of cynicism in this process varies from beer to beer, with many great collaborations popping up. Some folks will just add some coffee and hope, but others will work carefully with the coffee roaster to find beans with flavours that will complement the beer’s recipe. However, they are normally one-offs and don’t hang around much.
Magic Rock and Dark Woods
Magic Rock, the centrepiece of Huddersfield’s surprisingly (to a filthy Londoner, like me) active brewing scene, do things a bit differently with Common Grounds. They hooked up with local roaster Dark Woods as their source for beans, but added an extra step into the beer and coffee combination: ex-bourbon casks.
Ageing beer in casks has very much become a thing (I still blame Innis & Gunn, even if they’ve given up on using whole casks and now just feed them into a woodchipper before stirring the resulting mess into a washing machine full of their ‘beer’) and coffee has very much taken up the gauntlet as well. While there is a history to it – coffee beans were transported and stored in casks in ye olden dayes, and there were almost certainly former whiskey casks used at some point – getting flavour from the cask into the beans is now the focus.
Dark Woods store unroasted coffee beans in a bourbon cask for a few weeks. The beans are then roasted and some goes off to Magic Rock for inclusion in the beer. The rest goes up on their shop, and I’ve bought it when I’ve seen it – it doesn’t last long. The most recent batch used Yirgacheffe beans from Ethiopia.
Dark Woods Common Grounds Barrel Aged Yirgacheffe – barrel #124
Brewed with Hario V60. 17g beans to 250g water. Medium grind. 30 second bloom with agitation. Two-part pour, with a swirl of the coffee after each. Brewtime: ~3.5 minutes.
Prebrew, the beans are very chocolatey, with a touch of caramel sweetness – definitely some bourbony hints, but concentrated.
When brewed, the caramel notes sit at the back along, with acidic fruitiness through the middle. There’s some of the funkiness I expect from Yirgacheffe, but it’s all tied up with the caramel in the background.
Magic Rock Common Grounds Triple Coffee Porter
The beer is part of the brewery’s core range, although there is a barrel-aged version that seems to pop up at a similar time to the Dark Woods coffee – if they’re maturing the beer in the cask that was used to age the coffee, then I definitely need to find some.
The schtick is seven coffees added at three times during the brew, hence the ‘triple coffee porter’ moniker.
Nose: Coffee-led nose, with slightly sour grounds and acidic cold brew backed up by roasty malt and some dark chocolate notes.
Palate: Starts with sweetness and a touch of creaminess before the cold brew notes from the nose pile in. There’s a pleasant sourness from the coffee with hazelnuts and some bittersweet chocolate – like someone mixed coffee and hazelnut yoghurt together.
Finish: The sourness returns along with the cream: more yoghurt that disappears to leave bittersweet beans.
The sour fruit from the coffee is here as well – it’s one of my favourite flavours in coffee and it plays a key balancing act in the beer, stopping it from getting too sweet or bitter.
While I generally stay away from coffee beers – despite years of drinking way too much coffee, I’m still overly sensitive to caffeine, which makes them dangerous to drink in the evening – this has a place in my fridge. It might not contain a lot of barrel-aged coffee (my initial reason for jumping on it), but the beer is definitely focused around integrating coffee character. At about £2 a can, it’s my current go-to for dark and chocolatey porters.