As a college student, coffee is an essential part of my diet. Despite how much it might make my mother cringe, I would even venture to say that I consider coffee an essential food group, and by that token a food group that provides more for me than mere good health. The only other beverage I hold in as high a regard is beer. Having developed over the years a serious love for all things brew-related (in case the presence of this column wasn’t enough of an indication of my interests), I’ve found that a diet heavy in both good coffee and good beer makes for one happy, or at least well hydrated, college experience.
With that in mind, you can easily imagine how my heart sang when I stumbled across the Java Head stout from the Trӧegs Brewing Company – a beer brewed with coffee beans. My two favorite beverages combined into one? Sold. Even if the flavor combination ended up being a futile exercise in pandering to easily persuaded caffeine freaks like me, at least I could say I achieved that clichéd paradigm of killing two birds with one stone. Or, more appropriately in this case, indulging two obsessions with one beer.
Truth be told, I am a big fan of the Trӧegs Brewing Company, which may have partially influenced my decision to buy this beer. Their Perpetual IPA and HopBack Amber Ale are frequently seen in my fridge alongside the remainder of my steadily growing craft beer collection, and I have many fond memories of enjoying a pint of their Dead Reckoning Porter during the cold winter months. Java Head, however, is new territory for me in the Trӧegs catalog, so I let my natural curiosity and proclivity for unique brewing companies take hold and bought myself a six-pack of Java Head for purposes of experiment. Given my affinity for the rest of their selection, it seemed like the natural progression.
Java Head pours out a thick, dark shade of amber that takes on a ruby hue when held up to the light. The bubbly mocha-colored head dissipates quickly leaving minimal amounts of lacing atop this delicious little stout. Surprisingly enough, coffee is not the most prominent aroma emanating from this brew. The most noticeable smell is heady malt highlighted by an under layer reminiscent of chocolate. The aroma also has a somewhat creamy component peppered with hints of oak and grassy notes, rounded out by the distinct smell of strong coffee. Taste-wise, the coffee flavor is somewhat overpowered by the malt composition of this brew, but in the aftertaste, the coffee elements make themselves known. After a hearty swig of this elixir, the tongue is left feeling thick, much in the same way it is after that first cup of coffee in the morning, but without that familiar caffeinated buzz that typically accompanies a good cup of java. Not surprisingly, there is no caffeine content in this beer, but at 7.5 percent alcohol, there doesn’t seem to be a need to add in any more bang for the buyer’s buck.
In terms of taste, Java Head is unique among coffee-themed stouts because it doesn’t sacrifice the style of stout brewing to cater to the delicate combination of alcohol and coffee. The danger of brewing flavorfully adventurous stouts is the risk of letting one flavor component completely overpower another, but Java Head manages to retain all the delicious characteristics of a stout beer while seamlessly fraternizing with the complex flavor characteristics of coffee. In my experiences as a humble beer geek, I have come across a small handful of coffee-inspired beers, but none that create such a happy marriage between flavor and style as Java Head.
While I normally recommend a food pairing with the subjects of my beer reviews, it seems almost blasphemous to suggest a meal to combine with Java Head because this beer is much like a meal on its own. The intricacy of its flavor configuration does not make itself readily available for pairing with any simple meal, so my suggestion to you fellow beer enthusiasts is to enjoy a hearty pint of Java Head at the end of a busy day, when your brain is clamoring for another cup of coffee to trudge through the next three hours of homework, but your body is reminding you that coffee and sleep are not synonymous and one element takes priority over the other.
Though Java Head does employ the delicious taste of strong coffee, this is not to suggest that it should replace your routine morning cup of Folgers. Save the Java Head for a night when you have no need for caffeine, and you’ll find that coffee flavor is useful for more than just a quick jolt of energy before your morning class.
If you find yourself hungering for a thicker beer that satisfies your affinity for coffee, reach for a Java Head and indulge yourself in the medium-bodied glory of a uniquely blended stout. Though it may not give you the caffeine buzz you’re looking for, it will certainly remind you of the versatility of the coffee bean as more than an object of worship for the average college student. Though in terms of beverage worship for college students, I think it’s safe to say that both coffee and beer take high precedent over just about anything else. And if you’re a fan of both, then Java Head is the stout for you. Just don’t drink it in the morning, or you may find yourself less productive than you were before.
Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]