Uppers and Downers

Uppers & Downers — Piloting the future of coffee beers

We're a week in, and about halfway sold out, so before the tickets disappear completely, we wanted to update you on some of the unique experiments taking place among midwest brewers and roasters right now. These beers are being made specifically for Uppers & Downers, and they represent some exciting new territory for the category. 

First up is Penrose in Geneva, Illinois. Working with GBH's main collaborator on the project, Intelligentsia Coffee, Penrose is looking to make a beer that captures the spirit of the "Light Bright" category, which requires seem truly delicate work. Intelligentsia's Collin Moody (manager of the Wicker Park cafe, and previous guest on the GBH Podcast) tasted through some of Intelligentsia's seasonal fresh offerings: Ljulu Lipati from Zambia, Zirikana from Rwanda, and Ruvumbu, also from Rwanda with the Penrose team. They're eager to make a new beer using their Ardennes yeast strain, which provides a citrusy, estery character with spice that will work with the orange peel and spicy profile of the Zirikana coffee.

"Next to decide is: what's the right way to do it?" says co-founder, Eric Hobbs. "Cold Brew blending adds a lot of coffee color to the beer, but we want to control the lighter color and get more acidity, and provide a visual sense of how light this beer will be. So we're looking at a dry-hopping process, beans vs. coarse vs. fine grounds."

Metropolitan Brewing is firing up their pilot system, operated by the "Kobold" team, to make a new version of a coffee lager. They've experimented with this profile in the past, and achieved great results. "This one is tweaked a little bit," says brewer Logan Lippincott. "We played with the malt bill, and we're providing some of the wort to the roasters at Metropolis so they can help us select the perfect coffee for it."

The previous batch made this past fall had a great nuttiness underlying the slightly sweet malts of the lager, with a color like cloudy dunkel. It was delicious. A second batch wasn't part of the plan, but when co-founder Tracy Hurst heard the idea for Uppers & Downers, she was hooked: "The whole thing sounds goddamn fancy and right up my alley."

And finally, a new collaboration has been struck between one of Chicago's newest start-ups, Forbidden Root, know for their "botanic beers," and craft beer darling, Dark Matter coffee, which supplies the coffee in Half Acre's Big Hugs and Three Floyds' Dark Lord, both giant imperial stouts.

But for this collaboration, brewer BJ Pichman, and Dark Matter co-founder Jesse Diaz wanted to venture into some truly unexplored territory with coffee beers. BJ is going to brew a blonde ale as the base for a barrel-aged coffee, something Dark Matter has become known for. The one currently being toyed with is a coffee bean aged in a Manhattan cocktail barrel, full of boozy, spicy notes that should clash in an interesting way with the blonde ale — true to the intent of the Culture Clash category at Uppers & Downers. 

If you don't already have a ticket, here they are. And stay tuned for more updates from the likes of John Laffler at Off Color (coffee Dinosmores, anyone?), Cory King of Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis, and many others. 

Words + Photos, Michael Kiser Penrose Photos, Jeff Cagle