Harpoon gets roasted.
In the venn diagram of coffee roaster and brewers is one large overlap:
They are equally serious about what they drink.
That’s why when Equal Exchange, the West Bridgewater-based fair trade coffee company, approached Harpoon Brewery with the idea of making a beer with their coffee in it, the collaboration resulted in a harmonious pairing of two of the greatest drinks on earth (according, at least to this coffee addict and beer geek).
The beer—El Triunfo Coffee Porter—is the 44th installment of Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series of small batch, limited release beers. While drinking a cup of Equal Exchange coffee, I spoke to Harpoon brewer and cellar manager Jesse Brenneman, who worked with Mike Mowry and LJ Taylor of Equal Exchange on the project for about a year.
Brenneman decided on an English porter as the base and they sought a coffee variety that would complement it well—something mild that wouldn’t overwhelm the beer. The selection process involved a coffee cupping, a sensory-focused way of tasting and smelling the coffee. Somewhat similar to beer tasting, but with more slurping and spitting, a cupping involves mixing grounds with hot water, evaluating aromas, breaking the “crust” of coffee on top, then slurping a small mouthful of the coffee, tasting it, and spitting it out.
They settled on a Mexican Vienna Roast using beans from the El Triunfo biosphere of Mexico. The federally protected biosphere, straddling the Sierra Madres in the state of Chiapas, includes a tropical rainforest and one of the largest cloud forests (a tropical mossy forest) in Mesoamerica. Equal Exchange partners with 225 small-scale farmers in the region who work to harvest coffee using sustainable farming methods.
Back in Boston, Brenneman had to figure out the best technique to get the coffee flavors he wanted in the beer. He tried a few different techniques—adding ground coffee to the boil and in fermentation, but it made the beer too acidic and sharp. The breakthrough was when Equal Exchange made 550 gallons of quad strength coffee concentrate, which Brenneman added to the brewed porter during filtration. The result was a smoother and more balanced flavor, he said.
“We were aiming for a good balance down the middle. I didn’t want coffee with a little bit of beer, or beer with a little bit of coffee. I wanted equal parts coffee and beer and wanted it to shine through. I think we hit it on the head.”
The aromas smells strongly of coffee, and you get a lot of coffee flavors on the front—roastiness, vanilla, a bit of tobacoo—and caramel and chocolate notes in the finish, said Brenneman.
“The biggest thing I really enjoyed was working with a new company. The collaboration process was extremely fun and rewarding to have so many people directly involved, to see input and output of process instead of being a one-man band and hoping everything runs smoothly.”
That collaboration will come full circle in April when the farmers who harvested the coffee will visit Boston—and get to drink the beer made with their coffee.
El Triunfo is 6 percent ABV and will be available in 22-ounce bottles and on limited draft release.
[Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Ave., Boston. @Harpoon_Brewery. harpoonbrewery.com]
[Equal Exchange, 50 United Dr., West Bridgewater. @EqExCoop. equalexchange.coop.com]