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bottles

Eye-opening approaches to brewing coffee beer

Mystic Brewery

Why would anyone add coffee to an IPA?

Basil Lee, cofounder of Finback Brewery in Queens, N.Y., wasn’t entirely sure, but he was almost positive the combination wouldn’t be bad.

In a recent collaboration with Rhode Island’s Proclamation Ale Company, Lee put his hunch to the test, brewing up a soft, juicy IPA and mixing in cold brew after the fermentation.

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“On the one hand, we were feeling pretty good about it, but in some ways it’s like: Let’s go for it, even if it might be crazy,” says Lee.

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The resulting beer, Procrastination, plays off coffee’s acidity and the subtle berry notes found in both coffee and hops. Appearing a hazy orange in the glass, it is at once roasty and citrusy, like someone spiked your Tree House Brewing Co. Julius with espresso.

“It’s a super-unique and kind of odd beer,” says Lee, who says the brewery will almost definitely add coffee to an IPA again. And with an ounce or two of coffee per glass, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to drink it with brunch.

Coffee beers are nothing new, but Finback’s approach differs from that of breweries like Stone, which pair heavy, dank IPAs with mocha and coffee, and brewers who have been adding coffee to stouts and porters for years.

“I’ve never been terribly interested in it,” Mystic Brewery founder Bryan Greenhagen says of brewing a coffee beer.

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Greenhagen opted for a similar approach to Lee’s in a new series of coffee saisons, aiming to accentuate fruity and chalky aspects of coffee rather than bludgeoning an already heavy beer with more of the same. For the latest release, Kanzu, Mystic worked with George Howell Coffee, a roaster whose outpost in Boston’s Godfrey Hotel offers patrons 4-ounce tasting flights. The coffee for Kanzu comes from a single source in Rwanda.

“They can pick out one coffee from one place and identify how it differs from coffee from another place,” Greenhagen says of the roasters, adding: “Why put a single-origin coffee into some big dark beer?”

Mystic’s coffee beer is more subtle than Finback’s, with a distinct berry quality upfront and only a hint of cocoa powder lasting as the beer fades.

“The underlying flavors in saison amplify the unique flavors in the coffee,” says Greenhagen, which in Kanzu include orange, plum, and caramel.

Rather than add cold brew to a finished beer, Mystic made its coffee beer by actually brewing a batch of coffee in the kettle as the beer boiled. Both methods show there’s more than one way to successfully make a light coffee beer — if you even knew you wanted to make one at all. gary dzen

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen