What could come more naturally than brewing in Milwaukee? Nothing—especially if what you're brewing is both beer and coffee. Colectivo Coffee, who until last week were known as Alterra Coffee Roasters, quietly introduced their newest diversification earlier this year in the form of three thoughtfully crafted, complex beers. And yes—two of them involve coffee.
The beer program at Colectivo launched in a home beer lab under the control of the company's green coffee buyer, George Bregar, and coffee roaster Shawn "Roscoe" Bigelow. The two drew upon the palates and methodical workflow style they'd learned in coffee sourcing and roasting, applied to their innate Wisconsonian love of beer. The current three offerings—Cortado Imperial Stout, One Tun Pale Ale, and Cascara Farmhouse Ale—are available only in two of Colectivo's twelve cafes: their newest location in Wauwatosa, WI and another in Madison.
Though two of the beers are coffee-based, don't expect this to be an ongoing conceit. As brewing operations expand—the company has already outgrown their home lab, as well as a subsequent partnership with One Barrel brewing in Madison, and will be brewing future batches at the facilities of Sheboygan, WI's Three Sheeps—expect the focus to really stay on complex but classic beer styles.
We tried each beer at the Wauwatosa Colectivo, and got a little background from George Bregar as well.
Cortado Imperial Stout
Inspired by the diminutive and loveable espresso-and-milk drink the cortado, this sweet-finishing stout is surprisingly refreshing. Oats and lactose bring that creamy taste, while the coffee presence—a blend of Brazil Fazenda Saõ Domingos and Guatemala Hunapu—is fresh and retains a good amount of body, without that sad, stale taste usually synonymous with beers brewed with coffee. It's likely owing to the brewing process: Colectivo's brewers infused the beer with whole bean coffee introduced after the boil but pre-chilling stage—a method that could be compared to brewing hot coffee over ice. (Bregar feels this gives the beer a truer coffee flavor than incorporating already-brewed coffee or coffee grounds.) And at these brewing ratios, the beer won't give you a jolt of caffeine—but it does convey a very direct sense that this is a coffee-based beer built by people who understand coffee. Crisp hop bitterness is wrapped in those creamy milk-and-sugar notes, with a silky mouthfeel to back it up. Bregar considers it a "breakfast" drink, but at around 8% ABV, your mileage may vary.
One Tun Pale Ale
"People are always looking for hops, but I didn't necessarily want to offer something of an IPA strength. We wnted an obvious hop presence and decent body but with lower alcohol," says Bregar of the One Tun, named as a wink to their collaborators at One Barrel. It's a beautiful 5.8% ABV rendition of an American Pale Ale: slightly bitter but incredibly clean, with a soft finish and spicy, crackery, lightly citric notes and substantial, bready mouthfeel.
Cascara Farmhouse Ale
Back on the coffee track, this saison-style ale flavored with cascara, the husk of the coffee fruit, is a light and earthy beer that made perfect sense to the Colectivo beer team. "Cascara fits perfectly with farmhouse-style ale," said Bregar, "Those beers are meant to have subtle spice ingredient additions—the yeast produces a funk, and cascara has that flavor of coffee pulp, which is like a funky, overripe, cherry/tobacco kind of thing—so it meshes pretty well." Colectivo gets the cascara from the same farm in Santa Barbara, Antioquia, Colombia, that Cafe Pergamino turns to for the cascara "tea" infusion, served with a wedge of lime, that inspired the Milwaukee brewers. Though you may not be able to pick out the cascara at first on its own, the herbaceous, cherry, and slightly sweet floral nature it contributes to this charming beer comes from an infusing the husk at the end of the boil, and allowing it a little extra steep time.
And what's next? For now, the brewery-within-a-roastery plans to keep the Cortado Stout and Pale Ale on tap year-round while rotating out a third feature, and, of course, gradually expanding the beers' availability to their other cafes. While it's not yet sold in bottles or even growlers, you were planning a trip to Wisconsin anyway, right?
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about beverages all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop.