Welcome to the Bayou City Beer Club. We're here to celebrate Houston's burgeoning brewing culture, so each week we'll offer a beer review. We'll do old favorites, new sensations, and wild cards. Join us!
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Here's some news from your friendly dining editor: I'm brewing my first-ever batch of beer this weekend. It's happening (imagine the Ron Paul gif here). It's all happening.
My first beer will be a porter, or at least an attempt at a porter. I'm going with malt extract to start, though all-grain brewing is very much in and something I should be doing, says everyone I've spoken to. I do, however, plan to steep some malts—chocolate, black, crystal—to bring out more sweet and roasted notes. All this is to say I'm doing a porter. I'm excited. I love porters—they're warm hugs in a glass.
And since I love porters, I was elated to learn that Saint Arnold Brewing Co. was rolling out a seasonal coffee porter called French Press. Now a week old, French Press is a collaboration between the brewery and Java Pura Coffee Roasters in Gulfton. Saint Arnold uses an espresso blend from Java Pura for this beer—the same espresso used in the previous Icon Blue and Bishop's Barrel No. 14—promising "a balanced roast bitterness and mild sweetness." At 9.4 percent ABV, it's labeled imperial.
Typically, red flags go up when I come across a coffee beer. Roasted beans always feel like a crutch, used to pump up us geeks for just another big bottle. And coffee is almost exclusively used in imperial stouts and porters, which makes sense since the flavors align so well, but it can really hide some off-putting tastes. Also, it's just a little too hip anymore, you know?
This isn't to say I'm over big coffee beers, but it's hard to impress me with the style anymore.
With all that in mind, I'm surprisingly happy with French Press. It doesn't taste at all like a 9 percent beer, letting simplicity shine throughout the experience. The chocolate is more on the nose than the mouth, which relives me a bit, as early sips had the bitter coffee right up front. That faded pretty well and gave way to a more sturdy, roasted malt backbone. The hops even flourished, too, bringing some boozy heat at the tail end.
There seems to be a lot of restraint in this beer, which is appreciated. It tastes like the kind of workhorse big coffee beer that only an experienced, thoughtful brewmaster can concoct. I have a long way to go if I want to achieve something as nuanced as French Press, but I'm up for the challenge.