We all know that this is a nation founded by Puritans, and that their sensibilities still influence us today. Even so, over the relatively brief span of our nation's existence, per capita drinking has gone way down. Why, did you know that the founding fathers and their contemporaries drank an average of 34 gallons of beer a year (compared to about 22 gallons apiece today)? This golden era of America under the influence came to an abrupt end in the mid 19th century, thanks in part to prohibitionist politicians' racial scare tactics, followed of course by the 18th Amendment. (For the whole story, check out the Tolerance: A History of Drink episode of "Backstory," a great American history podcast out of UVA).
To keep up such a prodigious rate of consumption, our ancestors had to start pretty early in the morning, and it was not uncommon to enjoy a porter with one's porridge, or an ale with his eggs. At the time, beer, whiskey and wine were the common drinks because the water was not safe, and spirits were considered healthful. While we now know that this isn't universally true, I think that we can all agree that the occasional beer with breakfast is not going to kill us, particularly if said beer enhances the meal. With that in mind, many brewers have started making beers for the most important meal of the day, a great idea in that wine, our go-to beverage for food pairing, does not take kindly to most breakfast foods. Broadly defined, breakfast beers are any that incorporate traditional breakfast flavors, such as coffee, maple syrup, oatmeal, etc. Below are a few nice examples of the most accessible and easily found, coffee influenced ales.
The Kona Pipeline (about $8.00 per 6/pack) is a limited release porter from the big island of Hawaii. This seasonal brew is made with a healthy portion of 100% locally grown Kona coffee beans. The beer pours a dark coffee brown with a short, long lived, chocolate-milk head. On the nose this beer is full of roasty malt, bitter coffee, and earth aromas, along with a slightly hoppy lift on the end. More earthy and roasty elements persist on the front of this very milky, creamy beer, which finishes dry with a combination of coffee bitterness and creamy sweetness. If you drink your morning coffee with just a dash of heavy cream, this beer will taste very familiar to you, and you'll love it. Try it with chocolate chip pancakes.
Mikkeller, a small upstart craft brewer (founded 2006) in Norway has quickly become a favorite of beer geeks the world over for its focus on unique, "challenging" beer styles. Though mild compared to some of its offerings, the Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (about $12.00 / 500 ml bottle) is still more thought provoking than your average "morning beer." The BGB pours nearly black, with a very long lasting, very dark brown head rarely seen in a bottled beer. On the nose this beer is intense, displaying copious amounts of espresso, bitter chocolate and roasted malts. On the attack it becomes almost puckeringly bitter, reminiscent of chewing on coffee grounds. The beer is definitely creamy on the mid-palate, though less so than the Kona, with an ample body thanks to a hefty 7.5% abv. After swallowing the BGB hangs out for a long time, leaving behind slowly dissipating flavors of black espresso and cured meat. As one might expect, this beer makes a great foil to bacon, and would balance out perfectly with some Grade A maple syrup.
Though known mostly for the ubiquitous Unibroue, Quebec, Canada is a hotbed of brewing activity. Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! is a tiny outfit out of Montreal making some of the most intense (and beautifully labeled) beers in North America. The Peche Mortel (French for "Mortal Sin"), an imperial stout brewed with fair trade coffee, pours nearly black with a thick brown head. Like the Mikkeller, this beer is wickedly intense on the nose, though sweeter, with notes of malt, grains and chocolate. The chocolate quality dominates the front of the palate, accented with a mild bitter earth quality. The beer is heavy on the palate, but extremely flavorful and balanced, with more chocolate and fig flavors melding seamlessly with espresso scorched earth. Though strong (9.5% abv!) and quite expensive (about $6.00 / 12 oz bottle), this beer is super balanced, offering up just the right combination of sweetness and bitterness. Perfectly delicious on its own, the Peche Mortel would pair nicely with anything from a blueberry muffin to a full out Irish breakfast.
The nice thing about breakfast beers is that they represent a very loosely defined genre; anything goes, from Beer Geek Breakfast to Beamish. Try one tomorrow with your Nutella and toast before you head off to work. Screw it, have two. Then, you should totally tell that girl in HR she reminds you of your mom (she wants you, dude!), and I think it's high time you showed Mr. Think's-He's-So-Great- Giving-Me-Two-Poor-Performance-Reviews-In-A-Row Jerkass what you really think of him! Yup, that's just what George Washington would have done...