Among the many beers Founders Brewing Co. brews with coffee, just one has the coffee in the name, Sumatra Mountain Brown. The beer is also the favorite of Sam Mirto, the director of coffee at Ferris Coffee & Nut, the Grand Rapids coffee roaster supplying Founders with all its coffee needs.
Sure, Mirto loves Kentucky Breakfast Stout and its lighter sibling, Breakfast Stout, but he feels the coffee is allowed to shine in Sumatra Mountain Brown.
“This takes the cake,” Mirto said, sipping on the beer on the Founder’s patio during the summer. “The coffee is more the star. Especially when it’s on nitro, it’s like drinking a cold brewed coffee.”
Developed by a flavor panel from both companies, the blend of coffee is highlighted by a medium roast Sumatran coffee. Mirto said coffee from Sumatra is often overlooked by specialty coffee companies because of the dank flavor profiles obtained during the processing of the coffee.
“It’s a cool flavor profile that’s not utilized a lot,” he said. “It gets bad rap because it’s a funky flavor profile.”
Sumatran coffee is often processed with far more moisture than other coffees, and on the ground. Eventually a protective layer of parchment is removed and while still moist, the beans absorb much of the Sumatran environment, resulting in dank, moist, and tropical tones. The unusual flavor profiles have developed many fans over the years among coffee drinkers.
Roasters often roast Sumatran coffee darker to tone down the forest floor attributes. The coffee also is low in acid, an attribute many brewers seek in a coffee use in beer. Mirto said despite the low acidity, Sumatra still has plenty of brightness.
For coffee people, that experiment was really cool.”
In Sumatra Mountain Brown, Mirto doesn’t detect many of the major notes from Sumatra. Instead, the high notes are highlighted. The coffee is brewed with caramel, chocolate, aromatic, and Munich malts, along with German and Perle hops.
“The forest floor character, in all honesty, I don’t know that that comes through,” he said. “What comes through is a lot of roast character, the sugar caramelization. Sweet nuttiness and chocolate you have in a lot of coffees. It’s a very traditional, nostalgic coffee flavor profile.”
Along with the beers in the annual lineup, Founders and Ferris also teamed up for a special beer for the city’s ArtPrize in 2016, and made Pale Joe, a pale ale with a light Ethiopian coffee.
“That coffee wasn’t in your face,” Mirto said. “As a coffee geek, it was fun to see those fruit and floral characters really translate in that beer. You never know if it’s going to work, coffee is very complicated and often you lose those nuances and complexities in a stout. But with the lighter pale beer, it did and I geeked out.”
A variety of taproom only beers show up featuring coffee as well, such as a brown ale, served with three different coffees.
“For coffee people, that experiment was really cool,” Sam said. “To see the same beer use three different coffees and have them turn out so differently, that’s awesome for us.”