Forget the porters, stouts and winter warmers popular this time of year. Or at least add this unexpected seasonal to your beer fridge next to them.
The latest beer from Independence Brewing has been a long time coming — the Austin brewers went to Brazil and back to produce it. And then, they had to wait. They wanted to forgo traditional carbonation when putting the coffee blonde ale into cans and instead try something a little riskier.
But the result of their efforts may well be one of Independence’s best beers. The Up & Down Brazil Nitro Coffee Blonde Ale is a silky, subtle showcase of the Brazilian beans that were sourced via the venerated Austin brand Little City Coffee Roasters.
Independence turned to Little City owner Joel Shuler for a collaboration when the brewers decided it was time to try their hand at creating a packaged coffee beer — a burgeoning style, especially locally.
Little City "asked me, ’What kind of beer do you want to do?’ and I said, ’It's not about the beer, it's about the coffee — showcasing the flavor of the beans," brewer Jonathan Barraza said. "The beer will be just a vehicle for it, an expression of the nuances of the coffee. I wouldn't say it’s like any other coffee beer out there. The beans that we selected are a Little City micro-lot that has nice berry flavors, nice tartness."
To ensure the beer would take a supporting role to the coffee, Independence chose to combine the beans with a blonde ale base. Blonde ales are light and simple, without any particularly dominating malt or hop profiles.
"We made a blank canvas to let the coffee show through," Barraza said.
First, of course, Independence had to find just the right coffee to highlight. Both brands traveled to Brazil and visited a number of coffee farms over the course of a week, taste-testing until they found the winner: a highly prized coffee varietal known as Yellow Bourbon.
Once Little City brought the chosen coffee beans to the U.S., Independence brewed Up & Down using 180 lbs. of beans per batch. That’s a lot of coffee, and head brewer Brannon Radicke wanted to take an important — if unusual — step to make sure it didn’t go stale in the beer. He started researching the potential of canned beer infused primarily with nitrogen gas.
Now, the eastside brewery has become one of very few in the country to use patented cans that are specifically used to package nitrogenated beer, according to a news release. Beers on nitro have a creamy texture noticeably in contrast to the effervescence of most traditional beers, which are full of carbon dioxide. Independence wanted nitro beer’s velvety nature for Up & Down because of how well it goes with coffee, upping its shelf life.
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"Too many times, you have coffee beers with very vegetal, weird off-flavors because coffee doesn't react like normal ingredients," Barraza said. "It's not a fruit. It can change quite a bit. Most craft brewers play it safe, putting coffee in porters or stouts, which can mask those off-flavors. Nitro just preserves the coffee longer. We’re hoping the preservative aspect of the hops, the alcohol and the nitrogen will help Up & Down will combine to help it last."
Many producers of canned coffee products rely on nitro, too. Austin brand Cuvee Coffee, in fact, was the first company to can nitro cold-brew using a widget, the same technology in the Up & Down can.
Although the beer had been perfected as far back as September, Independence knew the canning process would take longer than usual — one of the risks "when you do new things," Barraza said.
Keep a couple of things in mind once you’ve snagged a six-pack of the delicate, macchiatolike beer. Independence recommends making sure Up & Down has been kept cold for a few hours before it’s served. Ready to drink it? Pour it into a glass, but not at the angle you would if it were a traditional carbonated brew. Instead, hold the can vertically over the glass — that way, you’ll see a cascading sea of nitrogen bubbles.
Up & Down is a seasonal beer, at 5.6 percent alcohol by volume, now available in cans at retailers including H-E-B and Whole Foods. For more information, visit independencebrewing.com.