Ah, Tröegs Brewing. One of my favorite breweries, and one I often lament not being available here in Maine. Thank goodness I was down south last weekend, as I was able to swing by Porter Square Books to do some book-schmoozing and the nearby beer shop to grab a few brews.
Tröegs is one of my faves because they brew the mind-blowingly phenomenal Nugget Nectar, a beer to drink before you die if there ever was one. Luckily, the brewery is no one-trick pony. Along with the aforementioned imperial amber, Tröegs offers a nice year-round lineup just this side of extreme beer, along with some inspired (cherry honey ale! flying mouflan!) seasonals and a series of experimental brews. With the brewery just over a dozen years old, the Tröegs brothers have a formidable bunch of beers and a growing distribution area.
One of the seasonal brews from Tröegs is the Java Head Stout, an annual September release. The beer uses locally roasted espresso and Kenyan coffee beans from a local coffee roaster. As is becoming custom, here’s the description from the boys and girls at the brewery;
JavaHead’s recipe is based off of our original oatmeal stout. After the boil, the hot wort passes through our hopback vessel on it’s way to fermentation. Packed full of whole leaf hops and a bed of ground coffee beans, the hopback vessel is similar to using a huge French press, intensifying the coffee nose and releasing subtle hints of coffee flavor. The result is a lush oatmeal mouthfeel balanced with cocoa, roast and subtle coffee flavors.
The Java Head comes in a big-enough-for-two-people 22oz bomber, and clocks in at a reasonable six bucks a bottle. I split the Java Head into two pint glasses, one for me and one for Brews + Books regular contributor Ryan.
The beer pours with a body that looks like, appropriately enough, black coffee. It isn’t pitch black, but a deep chestnut brown with light showing through at the very edges. Carbonation seems pretty low, but everything bubbles up into a creamy head the color of chocolate milk. The nose is pretty much what you’d expect from a coffee stout, with a heady espresso aroma backed up by chocolate and some pleasantly harsh roastiness. The most surprising part of the smell is some pretty strong lemon citrus hop smells right up front, probably from passing the brew through whole-leaf hops. To be honest, it’s a bit too much of a surprise to tell if the smells complement or clash with each other, but it’s the most hops I’ve noticed in a stout since reviewing the Shakespeare Stout a while back.
As for the taste, hello rich beer! Cocoa and chocolate up front in the flavor, followed by strong coffee and some pine and orange notes in the middle. Coffee and espresso take back over in the dry finish, with just a touch of hop bite. Once the beer warms up a bit, molasses and mocha and just a touch of alcohol flavor creep in. Smooth and creamy in terms of mouthfeel, kind of like a nice, cool cappuccino. There’s definitely a lot of body, and Travis‘ favorite beer description – chewy – comes to mind. Java Head is definitely more of a sipper than a session beer, but taking your time really lets the flavors all show themselves.
I can’t think of another coffee stout that tastes quite like Tröegs’ Java Head. Using the hopback on the way to fermentation gives the brew a unique coffee flavor and more of a hop presence than I’m used to. Down to an empty glass of the stuff, I can say without a doubt that the citrus, coffee and chocolate flavors all work well together. I mentioned at the top of this post that Tröegs’ has a formidable stable of beers, and this is yet another one of their seasonals that is worth seeking out.
Java Head sound like it’s not for you? Check out Travis’ review of another coffee beer, Lakefront’s Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout.