Two Heads are Better Than one – Black Giraffe® Lager

When coffee and beer unite, there are two reactions. Aficionados of the respective drinks might wrinkle their nose or think the idea outlandish. On the other hand, adventurist lager fans will rejoice at something exciting to toss back at a barbeque.

“Or with hot apple pie”, says Brennan Fielding, founder and brewmaster of Burleigh Brewing Company. “If you can imagine your grandmother’s freshly baked apple pie, that’s the perfect flavour match.”

Black Giraffe® is the gustatory invention of Zarraffa’s Coffee and the Burleigh Brewing Company on the Gold Coast. Sold in 650ml bottles and on tap by selected outlets from time to time, Black Giraffe® combines dark-roasted, organic Mexican Arabica beans, malted barley and American hops.

The result is an unusual, yet flavourful sensation. Burleigh Brewing describes its ‘black coffee lager’ as perfectly- balanced espresso-bitter and lager-smoothness, with undercurrents of chocolate and toffee, rounded out with mocha.

“It’s really about intensity. Intense chocolate and cacao notes with the dry, crisp taste of lager,” Brennan says. “What’s distinct about Black Giraffe® is that we add a crazy, stupid amount of coffee, about a shot per beer.” This is ten times more than usual.

Each sip of Black Giraffe® is like drinking an espresso while being enticed into a pub. Its malt, tang and smoky finish captures how a vanilla bean cigar might taste before a long black. It’s an exciting fusion of two brews.

In contrast to the honey-coloured liquid and snow- the two hit the lab, trying nearly 40 different coffee white heads found in a regular schooner of ale, Black beans, roasts and grinds to find the right brew. Giraffe® pours cola-dark, tinged ruby by light, topped with an ochre head that leaves clouds of opaque bubbles down the glass.

Brennan explains that it’s not just the volume of coffee added, but when in the brewing process that its added that makes a difference. “The reaction between the coffee and lager at this moment creates a unique flavour, one very different from coffee ale,” he says.

Lager yeast eats more of the available sugars in the brew and results in a less sweet, crisper taste. Black Giraffe®, to Brennan’s knowledge, is the only coffee lager on the Australian market, as most brewers prefer using ale.

Three Gold Medals from the World Beer Championships suggest Black Giraffe® is worth a sip. Online reviews recommend the same, calling the lager an ideal after- dinner brew and a tasty mix-up from the usual.

“I love hearing consumers’ responses to Black Giraffe®. It’s turned some non-dark beer drinkers into dark beer fanatics. Others have told me they drive across town for it, and we practically sell all the stock before it’s on the shelves.”

“We are changing people’s perceptions and breaking down barriers in the craft beer market,” he says.

One of Black Giraffe®’s most distinct qualities is the team who created it. Soon after Zarraffa’s won ‘Gold Coast Business of the Year’ in 2007, Brennan’s wife (CEO of Burleigh Brewing) Peta arranged a meeting with Kenton. Over the next few years, a business friendship formed that even saw Brennan and Peta attend Kenton’s 40th birthday.

By winter 2010, to complement his growing series of limited release beers, Brennan decided it was time for a coffee lager. Soon after proposing the idea to Kenton.

The niche that welcomes coffee lager is relatively new. In the last four to five years, Australia has experienced an overwhelming increase in independent breweries, despite a national decline in beer drinking.

Traditionally, craft beer reflects innovative flavours, quality and a personal touch or story from its brewers. These are often a family business rather than a corporately-owned label. And nowadays craft beer is treated with similar respect as wine, even being paired with food dishes. Apple pie, perhaps?

But as the craft movement grows and vies with industrial brands for a piece of the same market, debate has arisen around its definition. Brennan keeps it simple.

“Craft beer should be flavourful, independently-owned and authentic,” he says. This is a widely approved definition, especially by craft-hunting hipsters.

This niche has helped spur Burleigh Brewing Company’s growth. The company’s core beers have increased from three to seven since 2006, alongside limited releases like Black Giraffe®, FIGJAM IPA and Fanny Gertrude’s Bickie Beer.

Brennan and Peta are moving to bigger premises to meet the demand, employ more locals and hopefully create more quirky, limited releases.

Black Giraffe® embodies this creativity and local cooperation. It’s nurtured, made and sold by the names on the label. And as for getting it out there, Brennan has let the beer do the talking.

“When you create a high quality, interesting beer, you don’t need to convince people to try it. They’ll come looking on their own,” he says.

Grab the apple pie – we’ll cheers to that.

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