On Tuesday June 3rd we will be hosting a sourcing talk about Papua New Guinea in our cafe at 7pm. Greg D’alesandre will be talking about his recent trip to the country to find new sources of cacao. And speaking of cacao from Papua New Guinea…
I’ve been hanging out with William Bostwick, a local beer maker that often works at the small brewery La Cervezeria de MateVeza on 18th St and Church a lot lately. We met a few months back when he was buying a bag of Whole Roasted Madagascar Beans and I asked how he was going to use them. “I’m making beer!” he said, as he pulled out a bag of Far West Fungi mushrooms that smelled like maple syrup. He used the mushrooms and cacao to make a great ale for SF Beer Week.
William is an inventive and enthusiastic beer maker (and writer) that likes to use unusual ingredients in his beer making, which brought him to Dandelion. That beer turned out really well, so I’ve been working with him and playing with new ideas about using cacao in beer making. We’ve discussed how different origins could be used to get different flavors out of the brews and how to best use the beans. His batches are only around for a couple weeks at the longest and are served on tap at La Cervezeria. All of their beers are brewed in just 20 gallon batches, which lets their brewers have fun playing with new ingredients and recipes very often.
Our most recent batch is a South Pacific Stout made with our Papua New Guinea beans called “Cocoa Crisp”. However, it doesn’t come off as a stout. It is very dark in color with a very creamy coconut body and mouthfeel, but it has a very light flavor profile. It’s playfully malty and effervescent with undertones of rich prune and… chocolate! It’s really unique and if I were blindfolded while drinking it, I would think of it as an amber ale; it’s surprisingly light in body for it’s color.
Alright, let’s nerd out for a minute. I’m new to brewing so all of this was very exciting to me. The base of the beer is Maris Otter Barley, which is a traditional British grain known for it’s “bready” sweetness, that William likened to a honey graham cracker. These grains were added to oatmeal (for body) and wood-smoked grains, to emphasize our Papua New Guinea beans’ smokiness, and some dark roasted grains (for color). All of these ingredients make up the “mash” for brewing the beer, to which we then added Papua New Guinea Cacao! We were thinking “S’mores” when we thought up this profile, but the beer ended up being much lighter and fruitier than we imagined!
We ended up adding the PNG beans to the mash whole and cooking the mash below boiling in order to more more gently extract their flavors. Considering the cacao is naturally about %50 fat (cocoa butter), releasing that much fat into beer isn’t great because it has would decrease the head on the beer, so we decided not to crack them. So we essentially steeped them like a tea in the mash.
After we steeped the mash and drained it, we have “wort”. Wort is essentially beer tea. It’s hot, unfermented beer. It’s got tons of sugar in it that’s been extracted from all of the grains and would make a bountiful feast for yeast… so this is the part where we inoculate with yeast! We used a Belgian Trappist Ale Yeast, which ferments with a lot of fruity esters and lending flavor notes of plum, raisin or even caramelized banana. All of these parameters match up with what we’ve gotten out of the cacao in our Papua New Guinea chocolate, so it made sense to use it for the beer. The brew then took about a week to ferment before it was put into kegs (carbonated) and tapped! It’s on tap right now at La Cervezeria if you want to want to go try it!
Our Cacao beans from Papua New Guinea are delicious and unique because of the way that they are dried on the farm using wood burning fires that give them a “campfire smokiness”. PNG has a tendency to be very humid and wet, so drying the beans in the sun, as most farmers do, is out of the question. To make up for this, the build huts over metal pipes in which they build wood fires. Then they put place the beans on racks above these pipes to receive heat and dry. Of course, this is all in a very rural area with limited building resources, so some smoke reaches the beans. This is where the “smokiness” comes from, if you’ve ever been anywhere near a campfire, I don’t have to tell you that wood smoke has a tendency to stick to things. There are A LOT more ins and outs to the growing cacao industry in Papua New Guinea, their processes and practices that is beyond my knowledge, but if you want to know more, Greg D’alesandre (our Bean Sourcerer) just got back from a trip to Papua New Guinea and is conducting a talk about his trip, the farms he visited there, and their practices on June 3rd at our Factory on Valencia Street! The presentation will start at 7pm and include photos and lots of fun information. If you’re interested in beer as well as the chocolate side of all of this, there’s going to be an unofficial “after-party” for the talk at La Cervezeria, where you can try the Cocoa Crisp Papua New Guinea beer! Hope to see you there!