Reporting Back and Looking Forward
Heading into 2019 brings all sorts of excitement and interesting projects—foeders and coolship likely arriving later this month, and a bunch of fun collaborations, to say nothing of embarking on the conversion of the new event space next door at Dogpatch—but before I go there, I can’t resist reporting back on what I was up to during part of the month of November…
After various invitations, demurrals, schedulings and determinations, Kim and I headed south to São Paolo, Brazil to join our friends at Tarantino Brewing for some long-anticipated projects. The brewery is the brainchild of a trio of guys—two Brazilians and an American—one of whom, Gilberto “Giba” Tarantino hosted a BA group I was a part of back in 2013, during his days as a beer importer. In the intervening years he had asked me to come down and brew pumpkin beer at another brewery with which he was associated, but that never worked out. But now he has a brewery of his own, and when I saw him this year at the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, he renewed the idea. Rather than pumpkin beer, we would brew some beers more along the lines of my most recent book, Brewing Eclectic IPA. We’d source Brazilian ingredients, the kinds of things that have beguiled me during judging the Concurso Brasileiro de Cervejas in Blumenau, Brazil over the past couple of years. We would have fun coming up with things on the fly.
So we went.
The first thing we did, of course, not long after Giba picked us up at the airport, was have a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. I had one made with cashew fruit, the reddish orange pulpy mass that’s attached beneath cashew nuts. Who knew, right? Well, I did, from previous trips. In any case, not long after that we sat down for a tasting of beer aged on about a dozen different woods. Wood, of course, is another one of my areas of interest, and one thing that’s unique about wood-aging in South America is that since after the last major geologic upheaval in the Americas, oak was unable to migrate very far south of the Isthmus of Panama. As a result, if you’re aging spirits, wine or beer in or on wood, either you’re buying oak or you’re using something else. Probably the most popular wood is amburana, which throws earthy and spicy aromas—a little cinnamon, a little nutmeg—and a bag of which I happen to have, given me by Wicked Pete Slosberg (look for some kegs of this upcoming!). We tasted Jaquera (yellow jackfruit wood), castañera (Brazil nut tree, pollinated only by two rare types of Brazilian bee), Ipe (which I think my deck in Seattle is made of!), balsamo (minty and eucalyptus-like) and a number of others. Our choice for aging a brown ale was Putumuju, which was reminiscent of strawberry, and especially fruity when burned.
Our education in Brazilian fruits was twofold. On one day we tasted around a dozen different fruit purées, things, once again, pretty much unknown up here. Oh sure, we know maracuja, but by a different name—passion fruit—but the maracuja they grow down there, and which you can buy in any decent supermarket, are as big as baseballs. We also tasted such things as jabuticaba (which I happen to know Peter Bouckaerdt has been trying to get his hands on), cajamanga, jenipopo, seriguela and a bunch of others, not all of which, to be honest, were entirely pleasant (Kim thought mangaba tasted the way latex paint smells—and she was right). In the end we chose Cambuci (lime, mint, light pepper) and Umbu (tart, again peppery, and green) to put in an IPA. Fruit for another beer we would choose from something we found on the next day’s journey to the fruit farm.
Yes. The fruit farm. Alexandre, the head brewer at Tarantino, has over the past few years cultivated acquaintance with folks who back in the nineties converted some pasture land near a town called Paraibuna, about midway between São Paolo and Rio near back to jungle, but with a bunch of indigenous fruit trees worked into the mix. It was quite a rainy and muddy day, especially when we got off the main road and made much of the trip on unpaved roads in Luciano’s (another Tarantino partner) Land Rover, eventually arriving at Sitio do Bello. Kind of expecting trees planted in rows, we were pleasantly surprised by the wildness of it all. The idea, after all, had not been to plant an orchard as such but to help the land convert back to jungle, albeit with perhaps a higher concentration of native fruits than might completely naturally occur. The first ones we encountered with our guide Cintia were pitanga, which we had also seen growing on the streets of São Paolo. Looking like a tiny heirloom tomato, they are sharply berry-like and have a pretty big seed. We kept going, and shortly had my favorite fruit of the day, garcinia, which look like limes when they’re immature, but ripen to yellow, a bit larger than a golf ball and kind of tartly mango-like in flavor and texture. I ate the whole thing. And in the course of our further wanders we saw uvaia, grumixama (looks kind of like a purple rose hip, tastes vaguely cherry-like and has lots of seeds) and another whose name translated roughly to “furry little guy,” but which escapes me now. When we were done roving we tasted some juices for fruits that weren’t then in season, and chose coquinho aceda to make another pale ale with later in the week.
Tho folks at Tarantino were terrific, and their brewery was a pretty nice setup—a 30 hectoliter main brewhouse with a little 1 hL test brewery with four fermenters. Alexandre’s crew was diligent and helpful. KiKa coordinates all the behind the scenes action, with her oversized T-shirt and requisite groovy hat, and the other guy, whose name eluded me at first and subsequently reintroduced himself as Douglas, took care of milling, sanitizing and making sure everything was kept in trim. The one member of the ownership triumvirate I haven’t yet mentioned is Isaac, an American guy from Maine whose wife is Brazilian, and who was midway through the tricky process, despite still running aspects of the brewery, of moving to New York.
One other detour we made was to the Coffee Lab, a place I’d actually been before, a place that takes coffee very seriously. It’s important to point out that while Brazilians love and produce a lot of coffee, there isn’t all that much of a café culture—people mostly drink it at home. We ran through a number of coffees and eventually chose a blend of Yellow and Red Cataui, which we ended up putting in a pale ale, both on the hot side and as a cold bean addition late in fermentation.
If I seem at all vague about all these beers, it’s because (of course) they weren’t ready by the time we left São Paolo. I’ve gotten reports as they’ve come along, and I’m hoping that one of these days some cans will arrive (that was the plan). In any case, I have to chalk the whole thing up to a wonderful, un-reproduceable adventure. None of those fruits, as far as I know, are even available in this country. Hence there will be no beers brewed reminiscent of latex paint—or the wonderful juiciness of many of the others. I did bring back some little bags of cubes of some of some of the woods we tried, so we’ll likely be running some small-scale experiments with those.
The foeders, the coolship, the collaborations with Fal from Anderson Valley (Yuzukosho Gose) and the folks from Barebottle (a hazy IPA with grapefruit, Meyer lemon and retro hopping)? I’ve gone on so long about Brazil that’s going to have to wait. Stay tuned.