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By Lou Bustamante
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Rating Coffee Stouts and Porters
San Francisco, CA 94115
Region: Japantown/Pacific Heights
By Brian Yaeger
Roasted barley and coffee pair so well together, it's surprising that coffee stouts and porters haven't caught on sooner. But coffee beers didn't really start to percolate until the mid-'90s, and even now they're far from common, even for craft breweries.
To blind-taste eight coffee beers from around the world (all of them available in local shops), I assembled a panel of experts: Jen Garris and Rich Rosen of Pi Bar in the Mission, Whole Foods Potrero Hill beer buyer Wes Anderson, Dogfish Head regional sales manager Bryant Goulding, 21st Amendment co-owner Shaun O'Sullivan, Thanksgiving Coffee's Jenais Zarli, and me. We rated the beers on a scale of 1 to 10, based on our scores (70 being the highest possible).
1. Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel (Montreal): 54 points. The unanimous winner. It rocked true coffee intensity, with notes of chocolate, molasses, and cream.
2. Mikkeller Beer Geek (Copenhagen): 44 points. Great dry, roasty flavor with a detectable hop kiss for added bitterness.
3. Black Phoenix (Fullerton, Calif.): 44 points. An exotic coffee stout reminiscent of Mexican chocolate, spiked with chipotle chiles.
4. Rogue Mocha Porter (Newport, Ore.): 37 points. Nice hints of coffee, subtle but not overly sweet.
5. Nils Oscar Coffee Stout (Nyköping, Sweden): 36 points. Panelists dinged it for a lack of freshness resulting in butterscotch and paper flavors from oxidation — no doubt the result of its long journey from Sweden.
6. AleSmith Speedway Stout (San Diego): 33 points. The panel detected sourness as if it had been aged in oak, with sweetness reminiscent of Manischewitz.
7. Kona Pipeline Porter (Honolulu): 30 points. Despite being brewed with one of the world's most revered coffees, sourced locally in Kona, the bean didn't quite come through.
8. Meantime Coffee Porter (Greenwich, England): 26 points. The brewery's website says it uses fair-trade Araba Bourbon beans from Rwanda's Abuhuzamugambi Bakawa cooperative, but the panel hardly detected any fresh coffee notes.
For detailed tasting notes, go to http://bit.ly/bBHbW3.
Eat This: Star Stream's Pork Conserva Sandwich
It's no secret that Remi Hayashi is one of my favorite sweets bakers. Turns out she's also a sandwich maker with the kind of rococo imagination that's all too rare in this town, where — surprise, surprise — fillings with the sober contours of porchetta trump frillier flights of fancy. A taste of Star Stream's pork conserva sandwich ($7.50) last week showed us what we've been missing. Shreds of long-cooked pork, every bit as squishy and molar-packing as canned tuna, were actually the least impressive thing about it. The heart of the thing turned out to be a fennel salad punked with fat suprêmes of orangey grapefruit. It would have been more than fine left like that, only Hayashi added a sprinkling of crunchy-sweet candied fennel seeds, as brash, in its way, as marking up an Alice Waters cookbook with a Day-Glo highlighter. If that all sounds like a sandwich with an unctuousness deficit, consider that the house-baked roll was slathered, not with mayo, but with butter. Who else but a pastry chef would see the virtue of that?
Star Stream: 1830 Harrison (at 14th St.), 317-3013.
Big Hip at Sweet Maple
Sweet Maple recently opened in the former Cassis space, a spot that has been declared one of San Francisco's cursed restaurant venues. The huge space could prove the undoing of owner Steven Choi (Taylor Street Coffee Shop, Fred's Place in Marin). But while the menu's deep-fried French toast ($6.99) reads like a stunt-eating dish, it turned out to be delicious. Two wedges of airy pain de mie bread were dipped in waffle batter and fried to a golden crisp, with any lingering grease magically evaporated away. I wasn't too ashamed to take home a container of the whipped maple butter that came with it.
You can add fried bananas and candied walnuts for an additional three bucks – something I highly advise since, well, you're already taking the plunge into deep-fried wonderland.
Sweet Maple: 2101 Sutter (at Steiner), 655-9169.
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