Philly Beer

Review: Wawa’s new beer tastes like perfect diner coffee

The limited-edition release from Delco’s 2SP Brewing lands in bottle shops this week.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Update Dec. 12: Here’s a definitive list from the brewery of places that will be selling Wawa beer.

Familiarity is Wawa’s best feature. Over the company’s 54 years in retail, upgrades have changed the convenience stores’ content, but not the general idea. The shops are comfortably regular, with just enough dashes of originality to spark up a daily routine. That’s also a good description of the new Wawa beer.

Wawa Winter Reserve Coffee Stout is a limited-edition release from Delaware County’s 2SP Brewing. It marks the chain’s first-ever beer collab, and the result is easy-drinking and predictable — in a pleasurable way.

In essence, Wawa beer tastes like perfect diner coffee: just what you need, no more and no less.

No fluke the beer channels the zeitgeist so well. The guy who created it grew up five minutes from Wawa No. 2. “My sister worked there back in the mid-’80s,” said brewer Bob Barrar, the 45-year-old Delco native running production at 2SP. “We would go there as kids and I would get pints of ice cream and a big fountain soda.”

Pints of ice cream are still a lunchtime favorite (Barrar’s got something of an obsession with the stuff), but in the morning, it’s cups of coffee bearing the Wawa logo that can be spotted all over the brewhouse. “Everyone drinks it on the daily.”

2SP head brewer Bob Barrar and his favorite food, ice cream

2SP head brewer Bob Barrar and his favorite food, ice cream

Danya Henninger / For Philly Beer Scene

A coffee-fueled pow-wow in October is where the idea to collaborate with Wawa first arose. Couldn’t hurt to ask, thought 2SP marketing director Michael Contreras — so he did.

To much excitement, Wawa said yes. The chain recently began dipping its toes into artisanal coffee, introducing a fancy Reserve line and bringing on “guru” Michael McLaughlin to select special origin beans. McLaughlin toured the brewery and began discussing the possibilities.

“They brought the coffee here and we talked with Michael,” said Barrar. “He’s very passionate about what he does.”

To complement the flavors produced from steeping for 48 to 72 hours with beans used in Wawa’s Winter Blend, Barrar and McLaughlin decided to go for an oatmeal stout. Stouts are the style for which Barrar is best known — his imperial, called The Russian, is considered one of the best in its class, and its lower-alcohol sibling, Baby Bob, is a perennial best-seller.

Unlike those, which are powerful and hoppy, Barrar wanted the Wawa beer to be more subtle. He used both whole and flaked oats in the grain bill, with the goal of a soft, round mouthfeel like what you get when you drink coffee with cream. For hopping, Barrar went with a English variety to add a slight touch of classic java sharpness without lingering bitterness.

Did it all add up to a win? To this reviewer, yes, and then some.

Winter Reserve Coffee Stout pours thick and black like ink, producing a hefty tan-toned head that holds shape with a combination of bubbles both small and large. The nose is coffee through and through — there’s almost zero hint of alcohol when you sniff, despite the ABV of 6.5 percent.

On first sip, any idea of heaviness falls away. After a tinge of tartness, the liquid glides into a roasty smoothness that’s entirely gulpable — a swallow goes down with no harshness at all. Along with a slight hint of clove, the oatmeal creaminess is present, but it’s not weighty or cloying, and there’s zero bitter aftertaste.

In keeping with a theme: It’s especially good poured over vanilla ice cream, creating an effervescent, high-octane affogato.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

“I think there’s a pretty strong balance,” said Barrar, asked to give his assessment of the project’s outcome. “There’s coffee up front, but then you know you’re drinking beer.”

Stout isn’t usually a session style, but if the Wawa brew was available as a bottomless cup like that diner coffee it emulates, it would likely be a popular order.

As it is, that will be nearly impossible, as supply is extremely limited. Just under 1,000 cases were brewed (more than double the amount in Barrar’s usual limited-edition runs) and they’re already going fast. On Dec. 6, the sole Pennsylvania Wawa with a liquor license did a special preview release and firkin tapping that quickly sold out.

The rest of the 16-oz. four-packs will be available at bars and bottle shops starting the week of Dec. 10 (see list below). The beer is also on tap at 2SP’s tasting room in Aston, Pa.

Response has been overwhelmingly positive. “You can feel the energy around it,” Barrar said, joking that he’s been getting nonstop requests to set some aside. “Everybody wants a piece of it — they’re gonna have to go out and get it on their own.”

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