Back in October, the Crown held a free-to-the-public educational event that brought together beer brewers and coffee roasters to talk a little about the effect that different types of water made on their beverages. A remarkable variety of water compositions were gathered from across the Bay Area, and we tasted a bunch of fun examples of water and coffee and beer. Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting helped us out with the organization for the event, and MC-ed the beer panel discussion. During the course of planning the event, we were introduced to Nile Zacherle, a really innovative winemaker and beer brewer based in Napa Valley.
Nile’s beer business, Mad Fritz, is not a large operation, but his focus on “farm-to-foam” traceability and his willingness to collaborate (he brewed a totally new, one-time-only beer specifically for the event to showcase the effect of out-of-spec water on a recipe) are unparalleled. His beers evoke terroir and craft in a way I’ve rarely seen in any context. They also taste amazing.
A little while after the event, Nile rang up to ask if we’d like to collaborate on a small batch of coffee beer. Of course we said yes. After some back and forth, we opted to try for a subtle coffee influence on his ale called “The Wind and Sun” (more on the name in a bit). We chose to feature two coffees from similar growing regions with different processing methods, and see what cut through the beer. I selected a fully washed, red cherry selection from the Shilcho cooperative in Ethiopia’s Sidama region that offers up a lot of citrus and floral notes, and a dry-processed coffee from Aman Adinew’s Hambela Estate in the Guji region that boasts loads of grape and blackberry.
Now, Royal’s not in the roasting business, but the scale of the operation was small enough for us to scrape together a little coffee. I roasted a few batches and drove up to Napa one Sunday afternoon when the beer was just about ready to move into barrels.
Here’s what happened next, in Nile’s own words: “We took 8 lbs of each [coffee] and put them in separately prepped barrels (neutral Hungarian Oak) and split a 2-barrel batch of Golden Strong Ale into each thus about 30 gallon per 8 lbs of coffee. The barrels and the coffee were gassed with CO2 prior to racking on to the coffee. After 6 days we racked each one off and packaged it unfined and unfiltered in bottle. It’s naturally carbonated as well. That’s pretty much it. The base grain is Thoroughbred 6 Row from Carrol County, MD, and has a lot of grainy notes to it.”
Mad Fritz describes the base beer as a “rendition of a Belgian Strong Ale with Saison styling” which “offers the spicy notes derived from the yeast without late hop addition.” Aging in barrels “gives the beer a subtle vinous character and oak tones.” Not to put too fine a point on it, the ale is “crisp, lean and deceivingly potent.” Coffee aromas are apparent on the nose of both beers, with apparent red grape and raspberry in the coffee character of the dry-processed iteration and a subtle coffee flower character in the fully washed version.
The name of the beer, as you might have recognized, is a fable. It’s a theme for the brewery; each beer is thoughtfully paired with a parallel story. In the case of the Golden Strong Ale, it’s Aesop’s story of the north wind and sun, summarized on every bottle thusly:
The North Wind claimed to be stronger than the Sun and that with his power he could cause the traveler to lose his coat. He blew very hard yet with every gust the traveler only tightened his jacket around him. The Sun then took the challenge and slowly warmed the air until the traveler perspired and took off his jacket.
Gentle Persuasion is more effective than brute force.