One World Weblog
All About the Coffee Stout! Interview with Sebastian D'Agostino, Brewer at New England Brewing Company
One of our favorite things at One World Roasters is collaborating with other local businesses that take great pride in the respective crafts. When we had the unique opportunity to work with New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge, Connecticut on a very special coffee stout we were thrilled by the prospect and couldn’t resist setting up an interview with one of their master brewers. Sebastian D’Agostino gave us the inside scoop on the unique process that created their brand new imperial coffee stout using OWR’s specially selected beans!
What makes New England Brewing Company unique?
SD: Genuine, consistent quality and a care for each specific style that we make. We like to be creative and innovative. We were the first brewery in Connecticut to can beers and do certain styles of beer that other breweries hadn’t done like a Berliner Weisse, and wild beers.
When we do a new style we try to really hone it and pay careful attention to detail as to respect the style, much like a wine maker would. In any industry you want to make sure that you’re really taking care to respect the history of what you’re creating, but being innovative at the same time.
Not including the head brewer, there are three fully trained brewers that have all gone to brewing school—so there’s a lot of talent here.
Some clear common ground between One World Roasters and New England Brewery is the theme of eco-consciousness. You do quite a few things to minimize your impact—could you elaborate on those points?
SD: After we finish canning the beer, we use a snap-on packaging piece called Pak-Tek, which is made from 94 percent recycled plastic. It’s much easier to recycle and doesn’t pose the same risk to animals as the standard plastic rings do.
We also offer spent grain to a number of farms in Connecticut. After the actual brewing process, where we’ve finished extracting all the sugars from the malt, we remove that grain and put it into buckets and then farmers can use it to feed their cows and pigs, and actually one farmer uses it primary for fertilizer and says it does a great job with all of the nitrogen it produces. Up until a year ago, we were only dealing with one farm primarily, but now we work with four.
What made you choose OWR for their coffee contribution to the new "Coffee Breath Stout?"
SD: Before when we were using Bean & Leaf—Gallagher, the head roaster, had a direct connection with Matt in Westville, who’s our head brewer. He no longer works for Bean & Leaf, but he said, “you’ve gotta’ go with One World—Eric’s great, and a great roaster.” We wanted to stick with something we knew. We trusted him with the coffee and we wanted to make sure that it was something local and great quality. When we were there that night—all the coffees were fantastic and the fact that it’s so small batch that we could request specifically what we wanted down the roast—light or dark—was awesome. That’s what we’re looking for—not something mass-produced or from the West Coast that no one’s going to be able to get at the store. We wanted something that people would be able to see was from a local roaster and available to them.
You’re making the coffee stout with 60 percent of One World Roasters’ Sumatra Mandheling and 40 percent of the Dominican Pico Duarte; how did you go about choosing these two coffees and their proportions?
SD: We wanted a blend of rich flavors that would be able to coexist and stand up to the imperial stout that we were making originally, which is a deep dark chocolate, cocoa, berry note profile. We wanted something that could work with that and bring another element to it. So the Sumatra being big and bold, and the Dominican being something that adds a unique character to it.
Also, we really like the fact that the Dominican Roast is a direct trade. All of the coffees had qualities that would work well for any coffee stout, but that’s something that really stood out to us.
What are qualities that you generally look for in a high-grade imperial stout?
SD: In general, you want full body, and a sweetness that’s there, but not over-bearing. Some stouts tend to be very sweet and it kind of takes away from the natural coffee characteristics and roastiness that comes from the malt. You want balance. You want to take a sip and have it coat your mouth with all of those characteristics. To me, body and roastiness are the most important—everyone has their own preferences there. Some want it sweeter, some want it dryer, etcetera, but for me those are very important qualities.
A chalky finish is also good—it’s kind of a slight tobacco dryness to balance the sweetness so that it doesn’t hang around too long.
Which practices are unique to stout brewing?
SD: Compared to an IPA, lighter beer, or pale ale, where hops are in front, your malt bill, which is the actual recipe you use for malts, is the focus for a stout. You have to have the right malt balance between a roastier malt and a sweeter malt, and that’s how you’re going to get those characteristics that you like. It’s very important to get the balance that you like percentage-wise between higher roasted malts, to more crystal sweeter malts, to your base malt—the list can go on and on depending on the style of stout, but Malt bill is by far the most important thing that you have to focus on.
At which point in the process do the coffee grounds come into play?
SD: There are different approaches—during one part of the brewing process you boil your wort (the sweet amber liquid, pulled from malted barley that yeast will later ferment into to beer) and some people like to add coffee during or at the end of the boil.
Or, as we’re doing it, we already finished the brew—it’s done fermenting and now it’s called a “secondary process” or a “secondary fermentation;” that’s when we actually add the coffee. We believe that by adding the coffee later in the process we’re introducing primarily aroma and just enough flavor to it without it being overbearing. If you add coffee at the end of the boil, you can release certain tannins and qualities you might not want. Coffee can become too roasty and cloud your flavor profile. Again, everyone has a different school of thought. Other breweries do do it that way, or do both. It’s almost identical to cold brewing—when we add the coffee, the beer is at 53 degrees Fahrenheit.
Will this be just a coffee stout or a coffee milk stout?
SD: This is technically a coffee milk stout. What makes it a milk stout is that during the boil we add what’s called lactose sugar, which is a milk-derived sugar, and what that adds is purely body and sweetness because lactose sugar is not fermentable by standard brewers yeast. Only certain strains of yeast can ferment lactose—and you don’t want those in your beer!
Which foods would you recommend pairing with a coffee milk stout like this?
SD: For any imperial stout, you need something to stand up to it like braised short ribs or anything braised or in a heavy sauce. Foods on the lighter side will likely be overpowered by it. Dessert could be obvious like a rich cake or something that’s coffee-derived, but you could also pair it with a coffee-rubbed steak if you wanted to get creative.
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