Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Fuel Cafe

Lakefront Brewery, Inc.
Milwaukee, WI

Style: Stout

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Nigel’s spring ’08 “Tour O’ Dark Beers” wraps up today with Lakefront Brewery’s Fuel Cafe, a stout brewed with coffee, thus combining two of Nigel’s favorite beverages. I was running out of darker options to review, and while Fuel Cafe is a year-round brew that isn’t as powerful (5.93 percent ABV) as many of the brews I’ve enjoyed on the Tour, it’s still dark and therefore qualifies for my last stop.

I’ve reviewed my share of Lakefront brews over the past year or so, so I don’t have much to share about the brewery that I haven’t already touched on in the past. As for this particular selection, it’s brewed in conjunction with, well … Fuel Cafe, a bistro located near the brewery. Fuel Cafe apparently has a house blend brewed by Milwaukee’s favorite gourmet coffee purveyor, Alterra (best thing about Alterra: it’s not Starbucks). One of Lakefront’s trademarks is working with local Milwaukee businesses, as they brew house beers for a few restaurants in town and they heavily promote local heritage in the names of their brews.

While I enjoy stouts, I can usually only tolerate them at certain times and in small doses as the roasted, smoky profile becomes a bit too much after a while. Coffee stouts are no exception, since the coffee flavor is not only roasted (duh), but also typically somewhat stale, as you’re drinking a beer with a hint of coffee flavoring rather than a fresh cup of joe. I’m surprised that Lakefront brews this year-round, as I can’t see it being too appealing during the summer months, despite the fact that it’s not a super-thick stout.

Fuel Cafe pours typical for a stout: an ultra dark brown brew reveals a mild fizzy head of about a quarter of an inch that dissipates quickly, leaving a slight tan trace that clings to the sides of the glass throughout the drink. It’s got the used motor oil look, so detecting any sedimentation is impossible. A roasted coffee aroma permeates right off the bat, though it’s not quite as strong as I expected and it’s more like wet coffee grounds rather than freshly roasted beans. A noticeable semi-sweet chocolate aroma comes through as well, but is largely overshadowed by the stale coffee. A faint earthiness comes through at times, but overall it’s an aroma that is exclusively roasted malt.

The flavor is fine, but somewhat bland. It’s not nearly as thick as many stouts, and it can seem really watered down. The coffee flavor is dominant, but at times a bit nondescript; it has a generic roasted flavor that doesn’t necessarily scream “coffee!” like many other craft coffee stouts do. Hints of roasted nuts and cocoa come through as well, adding to the basic profile established by the coffee. There is some creaminess to it, a nice addition to an otherwise heavily roasted brew (think greasy spoon diner coffee with a touch of half and half). It’s extremely one dimensional as a malt monster (OK, maybe it’s too weak to be a “monster,” but you get the point) without any hints of other flavors to speak of. Medium in body (a touch lighter than most stouts) and smooth on the palate, Fuel Cafe has a strong, somewhat unpleasant aftertaste that lingers for quite awhile.

All in all, this was a pretty tame stout, and a somewhat disappointing end to an otherwise successful tour. I’m rating Fuel Cafe three mugs, although it’s a low three. There’s nothing wrong with it, so I can’t justify dropping it to a two, but its pretty nondescript and boring. For those who like coffee stouts or milder stouts, this may be an OK selection, but for those of us who like our stouts to pack a punch and like our coffee a bit more flavorful, this isn’t likely to satisfy. Lakefront has a number of brews superior to this, so if you’re looking to sample one of Milwaukee’s finest, try something else.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 23, 2008.
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