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  • Writer's picturePaige Latham Didora

buzz and buzz head to head, part one


Ah, coffee beer. I can recall the very first time I encountered beer made with coffee. It was Surly Bender, a pioneering beer here in the northland. At the time I was working at Cafe 28 in Linden Hills. You may remember the place; it was exceedingly popular for many years and was located where Harriet Brasserie is now. It embodied the quintessential “neighborhood cafe”.

The reason Cafe 28 carried Coffee Bender is because the former owner, Linda Haug,  is part of the Surly family. Todd Haug, Surly brewer, would occasionally show up to change out kegs of beer from the enterprising brewery that was then in its debut phase.

“Make them try it first, if they order a pitcher. Or maybe even a pint,” my manager (and boyfriend at the time, long story) told me. I was 18 and had tried zero beers. He was worried that no one would like it. I became both confused and mildly disgusted. I kept mopping the floors and tuned the whole thing out… I was very low on the totem pole at that point.

Fast forward about 8 years and coffee ales are some of my absolute favorite beverages. I have ditched my fear of mixing uppers and downers and completely embrace the multi-faceted buzz.


I haven’t presented a good ol’ fashioned beer match-up in quite a while. Why not taste some espresso stouts, coffee porters, and yes, even Surly’s Coffee Bender? It is never easy to compare high-quality beers and deem one better than the other, especially within a realm as broad as coffee beer. Different base beers sometimes mean comparing apples to tomatoes. But I will attempt to identify the differences between, strengths of, and ideas for several beers made with coffee beans.

The first match up is Southern Tier’s 2XPresso Stout and Tyranena’s Brewers Gone Wild Devil Made Me Do It. The first is a “double milk stout brewed with espresso coffee beans and lemon peels”. I was intrigued by the use of citrus in such a dark beer. From Wisconsin is the second contender, a “coffee imperial oatmeal porter”, that promises robust pleasure if their other beers are any indication.

The comparison

tyranena ST coffee

The aromas were so similar that I doubt I could tell them apart blindly and neither was particularly strong. Both were slightly disappointing with bitter coffee and roasted malt. Just what you’d expect.

Now, for sipping. Tyranena had a distinct and surprising spice to it, with deep and multi-dimensional coffee notes and an excellent balance of bitter and sweet. The texture is of a very robust porter with alcoholic heat and lingering roasted notes on the palate.

The key to an incredible coffee beer is that both coffee and beer are contained and present themselves. Both of these bottles do just that.


The (2-person) panel was split, but the Tyranena pulled ahead by a tiny nose. At the same time, a few points were docked for being a twist-off bottle. I mean, get it together people. I used a bottle opener which almost resulted in stitches and did lead to glass shards in the beer. On the other hand, the Southern Tier was more interesting. They have different applications.

Try the Southern Tier with a fruit and chocolate dessert. The Tyranena is better suited for a very rich stew or Belgian chocolate torte.


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