Side By Each has offered a full coffee menu since we opened our doors in 2019. Having coffee and breakfast means we can be open more hours, and we’re on the morning side of a busy road, so it made sense from a business perspective. We’re all about offering a wide range of craft beverages, and coffee fits that bill every bit as well as beer, so there’s that too. But most importantly, the vision for this company, from the very beginning, was to be a place where people come together. Those craft beverages are a good vehicle for building community – not many institutions bond people better than cafés and pubs, after all.
So it made perfect sense, once the time was right, to bring coffee roasting under our own roof side by each with brewing. Travis Spear has done a tremendous job getting the roastery underway over the last few months, and the coffee he’s making is nothing short of amazing. (You can read all about it in the coffee blog posts!)
It also makes sense to bring these flavors together in one beverage. Travis and I (Ben) have loads of crazy ideas for melding coffee and beer, and we’ll be wicked excited to tell you about those in the future. For our first joint effort, though, we thought a classic coffee beer would be lovely. That’s how Sister Cities was born.
The beer base is a simple robust porter, not very different from what you might find in an English pub. Blue Ox pale ale malt from Lisbon provides a nice, neutral malt background, while some English crystal/caramel malt and Belgian chocolate malt add color, sweetness, and deep toasty tones, while flaked oats add body. That sweetness and body are important for this beer, as without them a coffee beer can seem awfully thin and harsh. That’s also why this is at the high end of the alcohol spectrum for a robust porter: you need a lot of support for the coffee to enhance the beer rather than dominating it. On the other hand, too much roastiness or bitterness in the beer would become unpleasant when the coffee gets added, so those elements are restrained here. Similarly, we added hops only for bittering so no aromas would distract from the harmony of malt and coffee, and we kept that bitterness low. Finally, an English ale yeast leaves a bit of residual sweetness while adding a lightly fruity element to the flavor and aroma.
For the coffee addition, Travis specially roasted 40 pounds of natural Costa Rica Tarrazu, which is also the base of the Sister Cities coffee. We added the whole beans to the beer after fermentation and cold crashing. People are often surprised by their method, so I’ll explain: After many, many experiments with coffee beers, I found that I like the results best with whole beans. You might get slightly more flavor per pound with grounds, but with so much more surface area you also get some undesirable flavors – vegetal, bitter, even sour. I can’t verify this without a killer organic chemistry lab, but I’m pretty sure that the alcohol (a great solvent; think about the alcohol in vanilla or other extracts) dissolves a lot of the flavor-active compounds into the beer, without nearly as many of the off-flavors. When you crack open the beans after they’ve soaked in the beer, they’re wet all the way through, so that alcohol is definitely getting in there. And why on the cold side? For one thing, there’s a lot less concern about spoilage organisms at a lower temperature. But more important, the cold steep draws out a lot of flavor without pulling out harsher compounds that would be released with heat.
This beer is superb with coffee ice cream, any chocolatey dessert, nicely seared steaks, and barbecue.
When we first started planning a canning run we knew we wanted to do a coffee beer, but the concept changed for us on October 25 when our community was the victim of the mass shooting across the river from us in Lewiston. We had already planned the brew, but we quickly changed our plan for the name and the label. Sister Cities, we thought, expresses the unity of Auburn and Lewiston, along with the harmony of beer and coffee and the importance of community to the entire concept of our brewery and roastery.
Words are lovely and can help healing, but we also wanted to do something more tangible, so we’re donating $1 from every 4-pack and pint of this beer we sell to the Maine Community Foundation’s Lewiston Auburn Area Response Fund. Sister Cities coffee is also generating donations to the fund. We’re super appreciative of all the support from our customers helping us help those whose lives have been shattered by this senseless violence.
ABV: 6.1%, Bitterness in IBU: 24, Color SRM: 26, Fermentation Temp: 22C, Grain to Glass: 3 weeks