Coffee and beer. Two of the most popular vices in the world. Two of the most ancient beverages known to mankind. Though the pair aren't commonly served together, something magical happens when coffee and beer become one. Light and dark merge. Morning and night lose all distinction. Suddenly, it's totally cool to crack a tallboy at 10:30 a.m. on a workday.
There are many ways to incorporate coffee in your brew. You can mix beans into the malt build. You can infuse during barrel aging. You can straight up cut the beer with cold press. With so many kinds of coffee and beer and so many ways to commingle them, no two hybrids are created equal. With that in mind, let us count down the best coffee beers made in the North Star State.
Ed note: For the purposes of this article, limited-edition infusions like Badger Hill Coldpress MSB, Tin Whiskers Tiny Machine, and Bad Weather Coffee Ominous were not considered. But don't let us stop you from exploring the full bounty of coffee beer goodness.
Honorable mentions: Bang Brewing Nice Coffee, Bent Brewstillery Ol' Guerrero, Fulton War & Peace, Insight Banshee Cutter, Maple Island Cup of Joe Freakshow
10. Excelsior Spresso
Milk stout, 4.6% ABV, 26 IBU
Your pencil-necked uncle isn't the only one who can enjoy a good steeped mocha milk stout. Excelsior Brewing's Spresso is among the richest and most well-balanced cafe-con-cervezas on the market, and can truly be enjoyed in any season in the hours before the sun reaches its full peak.
Despite the heavy java flavors, Spresso can still quench a mighty thirst with its brisk backbone and watery swallow. The chocolate overtones mesh coolly into the brew, giving this entry the feel of an iced mocha, but with the breadiness of a good stout. Even though it's meant to be a winter release, Spresso is a good pairing for your Cheerios in any season.
9. Modist First Call
Lager, 6.5% ABV, 27 IBU
Modist Brewing is still a newcomer to the Minneapolis beer scene, but the adventurous iconoclast has already introduced one of the most innovative coffee beers around. First Call incorporates real espresso from Wesley Andrews to make a peculiarly silky, light-bodied coffee beer. It finishes crisp like a lager, but it still booms big coffee flavors. It's a minotaur with the head of a coffee bean and the body of a German lager.
Because of this alchemy, it's really difficult to consider First Call among any of the other entries on this list. It doesn't have that characteristic roastiness or that obsidian body that endears coffee beers to most drinkers. I don't want to count Modist's inventiveness as a shot against it — and ninth may be an unfair rating in the grand scheme of things — but it's hard to see yourself reaching for this one when there's still crust in your eye. Definitely more of an afternoon pick-me-up or an after-dinner refresher, oddly enough.
8. Big Wood Morning Wood
Stout, 5.5% ABV, 35 IBU
As it goes, Morning Wood was the beer that launched White Bear Lake brewery Big Wood Brewery, taking it from a carpentry-inspired boner joke to award-winning microbrewer in an underserved region. Morning Wood has won Best Beer at the Autumn Brew Review twice (2011 and 2012), and, most prestigiously, the kind folks at City Pages named the coffee stout Best Local Beer in 2014.
Despite a truly disgusting name, Morning Wood is a refreshing take on the coffee stout. Oatmeal flavors come in to complement the roastiness, with dark undertones of malt complicating the taste. Morning Wood is featured in Big Wood's 2x4 variety 8-pack, so you can enjoy a mix of the White Bear brewery's IPAs after you polish off a Morning Wood with breakfast.
7. Burning Brothers Roasted
American strong ale, 7% ABV, 22 IBU
An evolution of the Cascadian Coffee Ale, which won third place at the 2011 Minnesota State Fair, Roasted Strong Ale is the only gluten-free option on the list. That's Burning Brothers' passion — making great craft beer for those who normally can't enjoy it.
Roasted is lighter than most beers of its ilk. It has the crisp finish of an ale with the strong bitterness of jet-fuel-grade cold press. The sorghum in the brew does leak out in an acidic aftertaste sometimes, but overall, it's a superior beer. Also, it comes with a little history lesson on the can. Pretty neat bonus.
6. Dangerous Man Coffee Porter
Porter, 5.8% ABV, 30 IBU
To have a list of the 10 best any beers in Minnesota and not include Dangerous Man is a mistake. Especially when we're talking dark beers. Though the Nordeast beardos are more famous for their funky stout infusions like Peanut Butter Porter, Chocolate Milk Stout, and Coconut Milk Stout, Dangerous Man knows how to nail a traditional style with aplomb.
Coffee Porter is exactly that, a straight-up-and-down coffee porter. The most direct hit on this list, Coffee Porter sticks with tradition to create a beer that wafts an earthy roastiness, leaving a milky brown lace on the glass as it goes down. It tastes like a strong cuppa joe, with an almost meditative mouth feel that swallows like silk. Formerly the Matchbox Porter, this Dangerous Man mainstay was in part conceived by current Modist head brewer Keigan Knee.
5. Lift Bridge Irish Coffee Stout
Imperial stout, 8.5% ABV, 50 IBU
As you may have deduced, Lift Bridge Brewery's Irish Coffee Stout is made to emulate coffee, whiskey, and Bailey's, not just coffee. It's extremely roasty, with tons of malt and grain making up the imperial stout's body. The alcohol of its 8.5% ABV bleeds through at the swallow like any good Irish coffee.
This annual spring release is also especially creamy, blending the bite of the organic cold press with the natural creaminess of the stout and taking it to an imperial level. The Stillwater brewery also boasts the highest IBU of all the beers on this list, but there's not a distinct hop bitterness taking away from the fresh-brewed flavor of the stout. It's a brilliant homage to one of the most refined cocktails.
4. Flat Earth Black Helicopter
Oatmeal stout, 5.3% ABV, 25 IBU
Smooth, creamy, and bounding with roasty notes, Flat Earth Brewing's Dunn Brothers collaboration Black Helicopter is one of the best emulations of actual coffee on the local market. With the thick body of an oatmeal stout, it goes down like liquid velvet.
The beer's description has a lot of references to secretive black coffee ops, but the brew's influences are fairly obvious. It calls back to Schlafly and Founders' coffee stouts with its robust malt build and filmy body. Yet there's still something unique in the local camaraderie between Flat Earth and one of the state's most widespread coffee chains. Even if that trade agreement took place behind closed doors in a military bunker, it still tastes good.
3. Schram Mocha Monkey
Brown ale, 4.8% ABV, 27 IBU
If you take a dirt path two miles off a county road in Waconia, you'll run into a vineyard that serves one of the best coffee-infused beers in the state of Minnesota. By combining local cold press with a brown ale, Schram Winery & Vineyards has created a beer that gulps down perfectly on a warm morning at this lakeside estate.
Mocha Monkey isn't as chocolatey as the name suggests. Instead it boasts a light smokiness, a lingering nuttiness, and a persistent roasted aroma. It's a beer-drinker's coffee and a coffee-drinker's beer, blending both beverages into a mezcla for the golden hours of dawn and dusk. Now if only your employer would put this on tap and get rid of that grungy old coffee pot in the break room.
2. Surly Coffee Bender
Brown ale, 5.1% ABV, 45 IBU
An astute drinker would guess the top two finishers on this list from the get go. The only question is what order they'd finish in. Surly's coffee-infused version of their oatmeal brown ale is very often cited as one of the best coffee beers in the whole world, and it even boasts the highest Beer Advocate score on this list at a rating of 93. It's not just a great beer, it's actually better than most drips you can get in Minnesota coffee shops.
With a beautiful bloom of coffee aroma and a boldly acidic finish, Coffee Bender tastes like java through to the swallow. But with 45 IBU — a potent bitterness level that's typical of Surly — the cold-press-mixed Bender is definitely a goddamn beer. It's a great beer that leaves your mouth feeling like it's coated with filter grit, and that's an amazing feeling. Surly also makes a Cacao Bender version with cocoa nibs and vanilla. It's essentially a mocha latte in beer form, if you're into that more than cowboy coffee.
1. Bent Paddle Cold Press Black Ale
Black ale, 6% ABV, 30 IBU
Duluth's Bent Paddle Brewing makes a damn fine black ale, but when they add in Duluth Coffee Co. “Crazy Juice” cold press, it becomes something much more. Smoother than velour and richer than red wine, Cold Press Black Ale compromises nothing on either side of the division between coffee pot and mash tun. After drinking this augmented flagship from Bent Paddle, beer will seem as natural an ingredient in coffee as cream and sugar. It's the kind of beer you won't be afraid to drink with freshly brushed teeth.