New Belgium Brewing and Denver's Novo Coffee didn't know they were looking for each other, and they only met by chance last year. But the results of that happy accident will tickle the tastebuds of beer drinkers in two weeks when the brewery releases Cascara Quad, the latest in its Lips of Faith series of unusual one-off beers.
The beer was brewed with tea made from 700 pounds of cascara -- the dried husks of the fruit (called coffee cherries) that produce coffee beans. Cascara is used to make tea in Central and South American countries, but rarely in the United States.
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"A couple of years ago, we brought in a couple of hundred pounds of this cascara, and I was trying to get a local brewery to do a different take on a coffee beer," says Jake Brodsky, who founded Novo Coffee with his brother and father in 2002.
Brodsky had tasted cascara tea and thought that its characteristic flavors -- tobacco, cherry and leather -- would go well in a lighter style of beer. Since Novo's roasting plant at 3008 Larimer Street is just a few blocks from Great Divide Brewing, he started with them.
"I love their beers, and they tried it out, but they were just so busy at the time getting their pilot system going that they couldn't commit," he says. So Brodsky went to Denver Beer Co, which ended up making two small-batch beers with the cascara last winter.
A few months later, Lauren Salazar, who heads up the sensory lab for New Belgium (and yes, New Belgium has a sensory lab), was looking to sample coffees with her team in order to prepare for the production of some coffee beers. Plans to visit one roaster fell through, so Salazar headed down to Novo at the last minute.
"We had a great day there...I liked their attitude and their style and their whole ethos," Salazar says. "And we invited them up to do a cupping" -- which is coffee lingo for a tasting -- "and one of the ingredients they brought was cascara, and they made a tea. Our tasting panels are ravenous for anything sensory and anything new." And they immediately realized that the cascara would be perfect in a beer.
Originally, New Belgium wanted 1,300 pounds of cascara to put in a lighter, Belgian-style beer, like a dubbel, in which the cascara notes would really come out.
But Brodsky and Salazar eventually figured out they weren't going to be able to find that much cascara anywhere in the world, since most coffee plantations destroy the cascara in the process of removing it. So they ended up importing 700 pounds, all of it from Brodsky's brother's Panamanian plantation, and changing the planned recipe.
"We were going to make a nice light tea, but ended up making a super-concentrated version to extract more of it," Salazar says, adding that the brewery also decided to make a Belgian quad, which is a much sweeter, more alcoholic beer.
"The quad was already an incredibly complex beer, so we added even more complexity to it -- it's like adding another facet to the diamond. If you didn't know it was there, you might not see it, but if you do know it's there, it adds an extra layer of depth," she adds.
Brodsky, who went up to Fort Collins for the actual brew day, says he still thinks the cascara will work at some point in a lighter beer, but he's excited to try this one when it is released. "We are coffee experts, but they are beer experts," he says. "Lauren and her team are awesome. We are a tiny company and it was a pleasure working with them."
The aroma of the 11 percent ABV beer "brings dates, cherries and pipe tobacco right to the nose and builds layers with hints of spice and fruity Belgian yeast," according to New Belgium's description. "Once on the palate, Cascara Quad starts swinging clove, fig and molasses. Each sip offers sweet warmth, deep complexity and fleeting dryness."
As with its other Lips of Faith beers, New Belgium will make 1,400 hectoliters of Cascara Quad, which is roughly equivalent to 1,250 barrels, and sell it on draft and in 22-ounce bomber bottles starting in the first week of February.
New Belgium may also have a tapping party with Novo -- which plans to open two of its own retail locations in the next two months -- at a restaurant in Colorado that already serves both New Belgium beers and Novo coffee.
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