saBEERmetrics reviews: Kopi Luwak Speedway Stout

Jeff Gross, July 30, 2013

Hello fellow beer geeks! For those who do not already know me, I am a long-time writer of fantasy nonsense for the Hardball Times. Consider this is my obligatory introductory manifesto.

As a "long time" craft beer drinker (that is, if you consider 2008/2009 a long time ago -- which most Cubs fans do), I began a side project about 18 months years ago to document my immersion into the craft beer world. Not a cicerone or super taster, but merely an appreciative amateur that likes to explore, I began to take tasting notes as I moved away from exclusively drinking what I could find conveniently locally and dove head first into the trading scene, beginning to pay attention to freshness dates, and all those other things that the outside world makes fun of us craft beer nerds for.

My beer adventures have taken me far, and many of the beers that I have drank since I began the blog known as saBEERmetrics have come from even farther. I do not consider myself an expert, but I do consider myself somewhat experienced having sampled a few thousand distinct beer between tastings, festivals and what not over the past few years. I come here now to share my thoughts on a variety of beers -- some rare, some easy to find, some only available locally, others available nationally -- so that those who are curious what to expect can get an idea of what to anticipate.

Be forewarned that everyone's palate is different, and that I tend to grade favorably rather than harshly. Ignore my subjective scores, focus on the descriptions. If the beer sounds appealing, try it! After all, you only live once.

The boring stuff out of the way, let's dive into my first of what I hope to be a weekly (or at least bi-monthly) beer review for BeerGraphs!

For my first beer review, I thought I would break down one of my favorite new beers of 2013 -- the Kopi Luwak Speedway Stout from AleSmith Brewing Company out of San Diego, California. This coffee stout, which is not barrel aged, is a variation on AleSmith's flagship beer, the infamous Speedway Stout, brewed with a different kind of coffee beans. Kopi luwak coffee beans, to be exact.

You may know kopi luwak coffee for its odd description and outrageous price tag. Kopi luwak coffee beans are coffee bean that have been eaten, digested and then excreted by an asian cat (the Asian Palm Civet). The cost of a cup of kopi luwak coffee can range anywhere between $10 and $100 and upwards, depending on where you get it (and whether you are making it yourself). Many consider it a mere novelty. Though I have never personally consumed a cup of kopi luwak coffee, I have sampled several beers that have utilized kopi luwake beans in the brewing process. In my experience, I have found that the use of kopi luwak coffee beans in beer imparts a nice, smooth bitterness and robust flavor without imparting any of the sharp acidity that often is imparted by adding coffee to the beer. I also think that kopi luwak coffee beers have a unique coffee flavor to them, though I am not "foodie" enough to accurately/usefully describe that different flavor (and no, it does not taste like what you are thinking it does if you are grossed out right now).

I consumed this 750 ml sized beer, which was bottled sometime in January 2013 if memory serves, during the All Star Game (July 16, 2013) with my father. It was consumed in a Perennial Brewery snifter that has quickly become one of my favorite pieces of glassware due to its shape, versatility and cool etching.

Kopi Luwak Speedway Stout

Appearance: The beer pours an inky black color with two fingers of dark khaki head that gradually settles to a thin layer atop the glass. Minimal light penetrates the body of this dark beer. The lacing and retention of this beer is almost unreal; a thick layer of frothy head sticks to the side of the glass like white on rice. The shelf of head from my first sip was firmly stuck to the side of my glass for at least two minutes, at which point I stopped timing and drank more beer. This is a truly gorgeous-looking stout. 5/5

Smell: The smell of this beer is bold; I can smell it off the pour. Tons of delicious-smelling roasted coffee notes hit you upfront. Then milk chocolate, molasses, and cocoa. Subtle notes of vanilla a la what one gets vanilla-wise from Stone's Smoked Vanilla Porter are also present. There is also a faint whiff of dark fruit detectable as the beer warms up. The interplay of the components here is well balanced and quite inviting. If you love mochas, you'll love this aroma. 5/5

Taste: The most apparent thing to the taste is the super smooth coffee and roastiness. There is no real acidity in tandem with the bitterness, which is not itself very intense. This beer is not bitter like black coffee, but rather bitter like raw chocolate. Speaking of which, there are delicious notes of milk chocolate, bakers chocolate and a faint dark fruit character a la Kuhnhenn American Imperial Stout. No vanilla on the taste, but that is OK as it still tastes quite fantastic. Finishes with a mildly bitter, "unrefined" dark chocolate flavor and a faint hint of residual coffee. Truly delectable, quite balanced. Easy to drink. 5/5

Mouthfeel: The body of the beer is north of medium, but not truly as robust as other stouts as I have had. The carbonation level here is spot on. This beer is quite creamy on the palate and slightly dry on the finish. The bitterness quality is really excellent here. It is not acidic at all, and very smooth and lingering in a good way that pairs perfectly with the chocolate character. 4.75/5

Overall Impression: This beer is quite simply the best non-barrel aged coffee stout that I have had to date, and easily one of the best stouts that I have ever had (and I drink quite a lot of stouts). Many prefer the Vietnamese coffee variant to this one, and while I find both fantastic, I still prefer the smoothness of the kopi luwak version due to its greater drinkability. The brew itself is flavorful, smooth and balanced. It is not the most complex beer I have ever had, but it is certainly not a one-dimensional brew. Frankly, there is little more than what the kopi luwak Speedway Stout delivers that you could ask for in a non-barrel aged coffee stout.

In case you were wondering, I have had the barrel aged version of this before. Strangely enough, it does not hold a candle by comparison. The barrel aged version of this beer, in my opinion, is over oaked, overly dry, and it lacks most of the smoothness that makes this beer so appealing.

Unless you live somewhere where this appears on tap, the only way to get a hold of this bottle is to trade for it. I think it is still holding up marvelously for a coffee beer that is half a year old (coffee tends to fade with age, though not nearly as quickly as hoppy beers fall out), though I would not recommend aging it much longer. Seek out with confidence.

Cost: $18 for a 750 ml bottle.

Score: 99/100.