At Equal Exchange we love coffee, we love beer, and guess what? We also love them together, so we were excited about the opportunity for our latest coffee and beer collaboration, brewed up in Portland, Ore.
Our Portland crew teamed up with Harvester Brewing to offer a tasty new coffee beer featuring Equal Exchange beans. While lots of brewers are discovering the delicious ways that a little coffee can complement the dark, toasty malts that are the traditional staples in the brewing of dark winter beers, this brew is a little different.
For one thing, Harvester Brewing is a different sort of brewery. Go 'round to the back door of the building and you can't miss it: a sign with a sheaf of wheat and a big red slash through it that reads “No gluten beyond this point.”
Owner and brewmaster James Neumeister showed me around a space little bigger than a double garage that houses gleaming stainless steel fermentation tanks and their tiny yet efficient operation, as he explained what sets their beer apart. Unlike most commonly available gluten-free beers on the market, Harvester Brewing is completely gluten-free from start to finish. Instead of using common grain or corn fillers, Neumeister enjoys experimenting to get just the right blend of fermentables. “Our beers have changed a lot since we've opened,” he said. “We just keep trying new things - having the Gastropub is great because it gives us an instant audience to try things on and get feedback.” As we talked, he paused to tend to the roaster that filled the room with a warm, toasty smell, like that of chestnuts. He scooped some out every few minutes and spread them on sheet pans to dry. This spectrum of color from blonde to burnt will lend complexity to future beers.
The coffee beer that's on tap now is the fruit of that experimental spirit. Neumeister knew he wanted to make a coffee beer, so he brewed a batch of cold press and sampled it with a few of the beers that he had on tap. Most coffee beers build on the dark, creamy base of a stout or porter, and that's where he had expected this one to go - until he tasted the coffee in a pint of Pale Ale and knew he'd found something special. A little more experimentation until he chose our Medium Roast from Peru, declaring the nutty sweetness the perfect match to his smooth, slightly sour Pale Ale.
The experimentation didn't stop there. The night of the Coffee Pale Ale release party, Neumeister mixed it up still further, tossing vanilla beans into a cask of the Coffee Pale Ale and creating yet another new brew. Tasting flights let curious drinkers taste the brews that built up to that finale: a shot of cold press, another of Pale Ale, a Coffee Pale Ale, and a Vanilla Coffee Pale Ale. Paired with a Molten Chocolate Cake made with Equal Exchange Organic Ecuador chocolate bars, the combination was decadent and definitely delicious.
The Coffee Pale Ale is the latest in Harvester's Experiment Ale series that's available throughout Oregon and Washington (see their website for selected distribution in other parts of the country and to buy online). For the Vanilla Pale Ale, you'll have to stop in at their SE Portland Gastropub where it's on tap for a limited time. If it's gone, perhaps you'll arrive just in time to sample their latest experiment!