Cracking the Coffeemaker
Our collaborative spirit often finds us in beautiful spaces all over the world—and in our own backyards—populated by creative, entrepreneurial people who inspire us. We recently sent our Head Service Technician and resident beer expert Bill McAllister to the borderlands of Connecticut, where he visited a...beer farm?
My phone’s GPS started to work only intermittently before I crossed the border from New York into Connecticut. I was on my way to visit Kent Falls Brewing Company after Irving Farm's Teresa von Fuchs surprised me with the opportunity for a brewery tour and a takeaway of a few cases of beer. Totally helpless without a computer navigating for me, my anxiety peaked as I came close to completing a full circumnavigation of Lake Waramaug—but it wasn’t long before I felt a mild bliss at the sight of the idyllic farm that Kent Falls Brewing Company calls home. I picked the closest building—a modest barn—and invited myself in, looking for Barry Labendz, co-founder/manager of the brewery. What I walked into was this beer geek’s fantasy: gleaming mash tuns, stainless steel fermentation tanks, a keg cleaner/filler, and most gorgeous of all, a line-up of perhaps twenty wooden barrels. I introduced myself to the three-person bottling team, Barry appeared, and I soon had a miniature glass of beer in each hand. In my left, Waymaker, one of the three flagship beers brewed regularly on the farm. In my right, Coffeemaker, an experiment that spikes Waymaker with some of Irving Farm’s coffee sourced from the Santa Isabel farm in Guatemala.
Before launching into the geeky details of how Coffeemaker came to be, let me say: I was blown away by this beer. I’ve had several beers made with the addition of coffee, from the straightforward (and often boring) generic coffee-flavored porter/stout/name-your-typical-dark-beer to ambitious and wild single-hop, single-origin coffee, single-keg releases from the beer industry’s darling hot shots. Coffeemaker reminded me both of the Waymaker I had sipped seconds before and an iced version of our Santa Isabel, served by the carafe-ful at the IFCR training loft all summer. It may sound simple, but achieving that balance is something that few brewers are able to pull off. Kent Falls Brewing has, and it is delicious. Even without the addition of coffee, Waymaker is a bit of an unusual beer. It is hoppy and complex, with flavors more easily describable by setting a scene than drawing comparisons to other foods and drinks. Think late spring verdancy in New England, carbonated in a glass. The body sat heavy on my palate, but not in the syrupy way that I’ve come to expect from most thick beer. Genre-wise, it is an India Pale Ale (IPA) that is fermented with wild yeast called Brettanomyces, or “Brett” for short. IPAs are a staple in the craft beer section of any grocery store or deli, but still land outside the mainstream due to the heavy dose of hops essential to the style. Besides the aromatics of citrus, flowers, and pine resin, the hops bring a bitter component to the beer. Brewers often use extra malt in IPAs, which provides a sweetness to balance that bitterness but also increases the body of the beer.
But what about this wild yeast? Normally, beer is fermented with domesticated Saccharomyces yeast. Brett is its feral cousin, five times removed, except anyone that studied biology in college would point out that these two are not even in the same family, taxonomically speaking. Brett is used to ferment sour beers or a “wild” saison style brew because, depending on the work of the brewmaster, the yeast produces acidic chemicals and a wide range of exotic aromatic chemicals otherwise absent from conventionally fermented beer. It also typically makes for a thinner, delicate beer. Here is where I cede to you the limits of my beer-geek knowledge. Waymaker has got the spicy, barnyard-y flavors that are a dead giveaway of a brett-fermented beer, but does not lack for body at all, and I have no idea how the guys at Kent Falls Brewing do it. I am certain, though, that Dan Streetman, our Green Coffee Buyer, and Teresa von Fuchs, our Director of Wholesale, hit it out of the park for their side of the Coffeemaker collaboration. Dan and Teresa did much more than drop off some beans. They chose the coffee, the brew method, and experimented with a wide range of beer-to-coffee ratios. The brew method was a straightforward decision, since we have confidently brewed hot coffee directly onto ice at our cafes for years. This method results in coffee that is strong while preserving the nuances of hot coffee that we love, particularly the crisp fruit-like acidity and aromas, which other methods such as cold-brewing sacrifice.
Beans from the Santa Isabel Farm in Guatemala were their choice for this first batch of Coffeemaker. Dan has been visiting Santa Isabel for years, and Irving Farm is very proud of the relationship we have with Alex and Martin Keller, the third-generation operators of the farm. Relationships like this are at the core of how Irving Farm works, and so Santa Isabel is our quintessential mid-summer coffee after we have gone through all of the season’s Costa Rican and Salvadoran coffees. It is also delicious—a beautiful example of a sweet, clean, balanced Central American coffee. It simultaneously has approachable flavors of caramel and dark chocolate, but also the sparkle of fresh pineapple. It is easy to see why Dan and Teresa chose Santa Isabel for our first collaborative brew. If all of this has you ready to find a four-pack of Coffeemaker to bring home, don’t hesitate. As much as Kent Falls and Irving Farm have common ground in delicious beverages, we also see the truth in the seasonality of agriculture, whether it is coffee or grain. So, expect Coffeemaker to change as the seasons do, but trust it will always be delicious. Join us 7pm, Thursday, August 26 at the Owl Farm Bar, 297 Ninth Street, Brooklyn, to taste Coffeemaker as well as a limited edition Cascara Waymaker at a very special Kent Falls Brewing launch event!