Uppers and Downers: caffeine peaks and boozy troughs
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For over four years, Chicago’s Good Beer Hunting has presented Uppers & Downers, a festival showcasing coffee beers. Brainchild of Michael Kiser from GBH and Stephen Morrissey, World Barista Champion, this year’s event took place across the Atlantic from the Windy City, in Bermondsey, London.
Taking place at the new Brew by Numbers taproom, around 100 people gathered to celebrate two distinct craft cultures coming together. The ethos of Uppers and Downers is to both appreciate and drive the coffee beer style forward, inviting brewers to experiment with flavours, styles and processes. Eight collaborations were offered to sample on the night, combining the skill of eight breweries with the products of eight coffee roasters.
When we talk about coffee beers, we might expect a rich, boozy porter laced with espresso notes. It’s therefore no surprise that this style was represented to perfection with the Brew by Numbers x Workshop Coffee 10|10 Coffee Porter Imperial– it boasted an ABV of 10% and was made with whole bean coffee added four days before being packed – and it was sublime. The silky Uncommon Grounds barrel soured coffee porter from Magic Rock Brewing x Dark Woods Coffee was equally as striking, proving once again that porter and coffee are perfect partners.
High Anxiety from Belfast’s Boundary Brewing x Roasted Brown Roasters was a sophisticated take, seeing two mixed-fermentation saisons blended with brewed Dimma Ethiopian coffee. Beautifully tart, balancing light coffee notes, it came in at a surprising 2.7%. The 5.5% Hutwe coffee saison from Belgium’s Siphon Brewing x OR Coffee Roasters was another unexpected style, using Hutwe Congolese fair trade coffee. Here, the saison yeast and bright flavours from the beans complement each other to result in a well-rounded beer.
Coffee sours were also on the menu with the Mormora Sour from Cloudwater Brew Co x Square Mile Coffee Roasters, which had a generous amount of ground coffee beans on the nose. This coffee-infused kettle sour boasted tropical fruit flavours infused with bitter coffee notes. The second kettle sour was Sawa Sawa from Weird Beard Brew Co. x Hasbean Coffee, with notes of dark berries paired with Kenyan Thika Washed Varuietal coffee.
More fruit and coffee were combined for an exhilarating coffee IPA from Beavertown Brewery x Caravan Coffee Roasters, Love in the Time of Coffee, an attractive hazy orange beer with aromas of juicy tropical fruit spiked with potent notes from Columbian El Zafiro Washed Bourbon coffee.
Finally, desert was served up in the guise of the Russian Star from Northern Monk Brew Co x North Star Coffee Roasters, a creamy white stout with substantial hits of vanilla and added lactose to give it decedent sweetness. The Guatemala la Bolsa coffee, which was cold-brewed and added to the fermentor tank, mixes beautifully here to enhance the beer, reticent of an indulgent espresso-fuelled dessert.
It wouldn’t be an Uppers and Downers festival without the inclusion of exceptional coffee, so two espresso bars were set up at the end of the taproom, where the din of beans being ground and the aromatic warmth of coffee was sent wafting across the crowd. Drinkers worked their way through a pour of each beer, stopping to experience the freshly prepared caffeine until the jitters set in. The baristas were knowledgeable and welcoming, happy to explain the unique tasting notes of each coffee bean with enthusiasm.
This sold out event confirmed how two craft cultures can intermingle for one night, attracting the curiosity of drinkers and the experimental, collaborative spirit of two progressive industries. There’s a lot of overlap between coffee and beer and Uppers and Downers demonstrated this with resounding success; with any luck, this marks the beginning of another annual event for the London drinking calendar.