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Mikkeller vs Kernel – coffee IPA battle

Mikkeller Koppi not pictured…

One of the inevitable consequences of pushing the limits of conventional brewing is the blurring of boundaries. Styles are merged, blended or just ignored completely. New ingredients arrive by the dozen, are integrated into a dozen more different beers, and then potentially endless varieties of hops, malt and strains of yeast are involved. In short – these days anything goes.

One of the must-brew styles of 2010 was the Black IPA – several hit the shelves over the course of last year. Experimentation is fantastic. Who’s to say that an India Pale Ale needs to be pale? Admittedly the clue is in the question, but then the rush of Cascadian Dark Ales provides a handy bracket for those concerned with semantics. Recently I managed to get hold of two examples (the only two on RateBeer – although there may be others) of a similarly oxymoronic style – the Coffee IPA.

For years coffee has been the reserve of dark beers – lending that lovely astringent roasty bitterness to stouts, porters and big imperials. But why not stick some in an IPA? It’s no co-incidence that the two breweries who did just that are known for their unorthodox approach to brewing, and their willingness to experiment. But how do the beers compare to each other? Only one way to find out…

Firstly we have the European challenger from the near-iconic Danish producer Mikkeller. Operated by one man – Mikkel Borg Bjergsø – brewing’s most celebrated cuckoo brewer (or gypsy-brewer as he calls himself) produces small runs of almost countless beers, working with the equipment of other breweries. Flitting from mash tun to mash tun gives him astonishing scope – last year Mikkeller released 76 beers.

His coffee IPA is the wonderfully named Koppi Tomahawk x Guji Natural Coffee (6.9%) – which reveals both the hop used (Tomahawk) and the coffee (Ethiopian Guji). It has plenty of coffee on the nose – smelling like a cold coffee that has sat for a while. There’s less on the taste – it’s bitter rather than harsh, and the coffee start gradually gives way to the hops for the decent IPA-like finish.

The other challenger doesn’t scrimp on the lettering either – Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA (6.5%) was released (co-incidentally) only a week or so after the Danish example. Also the labour of one man – affable Irishman Evin O’Riordain – we’ve featured London-based Kernel beers several times here on the BeerCast, and they never disappoint. Suke Quto are a coffee co-operative who also hail from the southern part of Ethiopia – so the results could be quite similar.

It’s surprising then, that they aren’t. Kernel’s Coffee IPA is firstly much lighter in colour than the Mikkeller – hazy deep gold rather than dark brown – but more importantly it’s the complete reverse in terms of the taste profile. This one is IPA out of the blocks as the hops come charging out first, before midway through the coffee bitterness arrives and pushes aside the first load of flavours. It’s such an odd – and more defined – transition, but it really works.

So which is better? Well, that’s a pretty tough choice – it’s fascinating that two ostensibly similar beers could be so different. The answer depends on whether you think Coffee IPA should highlight the first half of the term or the second. Without doubt the better IPA is the Kernel – the hops are present in the Danish beer, but only just at the end. However, this probably means that Mikkeller has the better coffee profile. Either way, they are both tremendous – proof that experimentation pays off, and that coffee beers needn’t be dark.

We weren’t the only people to pair up these two new challengers – Rob at Hopzine also got hold of the Kernel beer. You can read (and watch) what he thought here.

Tags: Kernel, Mikkeller

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 27th, 2011 at 11:34 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Mikkeller vs Kernel – coffee IPA battle”

  1.  Rob Derbyshire Says:
    March 28th, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for the link and a really interesting read. Looks like we came to very similar conclusions.

    One small point, Mikkel may appear to be a ‘One-man Band” but he’s always accompanied by a small gang of helpers most notably Mikkeller’s Spokesman-Marketeer-Mysterious Man in Black, Thomas Schøn. And Kernel is ran by Evin and two other lads, sorry I can’t remember their name to they were all lovely chaps.

  2. Tropical Saloon » How We Brewed The Suke Quto Coffee IPA. Says:
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    [...] but there’s plenty of other, far more qualified, people who have already done it: Hopzine, The Beer Cast, and a great many more… And oh so very importantly, somewhere to buy it – [...]

  3.  Mike Marcus Says:
    May 22nd, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    The two other lads are Kriegel and Toby.

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