Great Divide's Espresso Yeti a Rare Treat

February 10, 2017

By Lee Breslouer, February 10, 2017

Only a few people have ever seen a Yeti in the wild, but for about the last eight years, Great Divide’s Yeti series has been a staple at beer shops across America. All of the Yeti varieties – Chocolate Oak Aged, Barrel Aged, Oatmeal, Oak Aged, and the base beer, Yeti Imperial Stout, are worth tracking down and drinking. But we’d like to highlight Espresso Oak Aged Yeti.

Espresso Yeti is a winter seasonal release for the Denver brewery, and like a nice cup of coffee, it’s worth savoring on a cold-as-hell winter day. We spoke to Great Divide founder Brian Dunn and another Mile High business owner, Craig Conner of Pablo’s Coffee, about their collaboration behind one of the more enduring coffee beers out there. This is the Beer Teardown of Espresso Oak Aged Yeti.

The name change ended up being a solid move for the company, as the Yeti silhouette became the brand’s enduring mascot.”

The beer was initially called Maverick Imperial Stout. But it didn’t last long, as another brewery was already hawking a beer of the same name. And so it became Yeti. The name change ended up being a solid move for the company, as the Yeti silhouette became the brand’s enduring mascot.

Drive around Denver long enough and you’ll see a bumper sticker with the mystical creature and the phrase, “I Believe.” The beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival believed it was exceptional enough to earn a silver medal in ‘05. After that came the second entry in the Yeti series: an Oak Aged version. Finally, in 2009, espresso was introduced into the mix, with phenomenal results.

The 2009 Denver beer scene is much different from the Denver scene of 2017. For one: far fewer breweries. There wasn’t a Crooked Stave and its nationally recognized Brett beers, or a Denver Beer Co. and its Graham Cracker Porter. That is to say, there were far fewer breweries, and much less innovation. Today, a big, roasty coffee beer might seem like a fairly straightforward brew. But this was ‘09, and things were different.

At the time, some popular coffee beers were AleSmith Speedway Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout, and Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (currently known by a cheekier name). Those fantastic beers have endured. Most… have not. “A lot of coffee beers seem to have come and gone,” Great Divide’s Dunn says.

If the question is “Why add coffee to this beer?” the answer is probably, “Why not?””

If the question is “Why add coffee to this beer?” the answer is probably, “Why not?” We’ll let Dunn explain. “Yeti’s a style of beer that’s been modifiable,” he says. What’s already in the base beer are a ton of chocolate flavors and a serious malt backbone. "It’s a pretty assertive beer,” he says with a tone that makes it sound like a huge understatement. But lest you think it’s all malt, it also clocks in at 75 IBUs. “It’s balanced too,” says Dunn. There’s a reason this beer has won awards, people.

Dunn also explained that the brewery had never made another coffee beer (and still hasn’t). “You need a pretty big beer to hold up to coffee,” he says. “I can’t think of another style where I’d want to put coffee in.” Looks like he found a perfect match.

The coffee roasting scene in Denver was markedly different in ‘09 as well. “I can think of at least four good roasters in Denver and Boulder that weren’t around then,” says Pablo’s Conner. Now there’s practically one great shop and/or roaster in most Mile High hoods.

But back then, this brewery and this roaster found each other when one of Great Divide’s brewery managers at the time introduced the company to Pablo’s. It’s probably not a coincidence – he was a former barista. Yeti was in need of espresso, and Pablo’s had plenty of experience roasting. The only thing left to do was to find the proper blend for the beer.

A big beer demands big coffee flavors that won’t get lost in the mix, which explains why the java in Yeti was developed as an espresso.”

After the Pablo’s folks sat down with the brewers and tried the beer (and you think your job is tough), they went to work. A big beer demands big coffee flavors that won’t get lost in the mix, which explains why the java in Yeti was developed as an espresso.

Conner notes that not all coffees perform well as an espresso extraction. “We did a custom blend for them,” he explains. “It’s a very Rwanda-heavy blend. But it also has Brazilian coffee and some Indonesian sumatra to give it more body.” In case you’re not up on what java from different countries tastes like, Conner will give you a crash course.

“The Brazilian [beans] give it a chocolate nature. The Rwanda is exotic and winey with some nice brightness to it, and it can yield a lot of sweetness if you develop it properly in the roast process. The Sumatra gives it body and mouthfeel. In fact, it amplifies the mouthfeel of a such a heavy, heavy beer. It plays nice and adds a little bit of chocolate and kind of a candy sweetness.” For an already complex beer, this espresso blend clearly adds layers of flavor, and elevates what’s already a seriously smooth mouthfeel.

Now that you’ve fully appreciated the history of this beer and the elements that make it great, it’s time to sit down and drink it. But instead of just pouring it in a glass and downing it (which isn’t a horrible idea), it could be fun to take a cue from Great Divide, which has offered Yeti ice cream floats at its anniversary parties the past few years. You really can’t go wrong with adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream or coffee gelato in the mix.

The brewery also suggests pairing the beer Roaring 40s blue cheese, cinnamon donuts with crème anglaise, or even a chorizo breakfast burrito. Ah, Espresso Yeti and a burrito – truly the breakfast of champions.

But no matter when you’re drinking this coffee stout next, you’ll appreciate it more. After all, you now know all about how it found its way into your pint glass.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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